Hotline to connect worldwide callers to 'random Swede'

Ever felt like calling up a complete stranger in Sweden?

Now is your chance.

The Swedish Tourist Association has set up a hotline that lets callers worldwide “get connected to a random Swede.”

On its website, the nonprofit group says the idea is “to spark people’s curiosity about Sweden — our culture, nature and mindset. To help us do this, we have the people of Sweden.”

It’s not completely random. The Swedes who take the calls have volunteered by downloading an app. But they are not vetted or given any instructions about what to say.

It’s like when Swedes travel the world,” said Magnus Ling, the head of the Swedish Tourist Association. “You don’t know who they’re going to talk to and what they’re going to say.”

Some 3,000 Swedes have signed up to answer calls, said Mr Ling.

The website says the initiative honours the 250th anniversary of Sweden’s 1766 Freedom of the Press Act, believed to be the world’s first law supporting the freedom of expression.

Mr Ling admitted there was another motive: Recruiting members to the tourism association, which is funded through membership fees. Swedes who sign up to receive calls will receive an email inviting them to join the group, he said.

The calls are not monitored but they are recorded “so that if someone says ‘I was threatened or harassed’ we can go back and see who it was and even block that number”, said Mr Ling.

The biggest number of incoming calls has come from Turkey. Mr Ling said he didn’t know why, but thought it had to do with the initiative getting attention there both in traditional media and social media.

After signing up to test the service, this Stockholm-based AP reporter received four calls, about one an hour. The first was a woman from Turkey with limited English skills.

The second hung up. The third was an engineering student from Britain. And the fourth was another journalist, Tim Nudd, creative editor at Adweek in New York.

“I just wanted to call and see how this whole thing works,” said Mr Nudd. He, too, was writing an article about it.

The hotline follows a similar initiative on Twitter by the Swedish Institute, the government’s own PR agency. Since 2011 it lets a different Swedish citizen manage its official @Sweden account every week.

Mr Ling said the feedback was almost all positive, though he said a number of callers were trying to hook up with Swedish women.

“I’ve heard of just one or two such calls,” he said.


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