The country of Sweden has a phone number and I called it

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A telephone booth in Gammelstad, Sweden (photo via Wikipedia)

Yesterday, Sweden became the first country to set up its own phone number, inviting anyone in the world to log in and connect with a random Swede. The initiative comes courtesy of the Swedish Tourism Association, run by volunteers, and any citizen can register through an app to answer the same number. It is intended to honor the 250th anniversary of the passage of a constitutional law that abolished censorship – the first in the world – but also to arouse people’s curiosity for the Scandinavian country. As a way to eventually boost tourism, it’s a new and quite interesting idea, but it’s also intriguing as a social experiment designed – kind of like a less seedy Chatroulette or Omegle that lives on pre-internet technology, and that comes with a loose frame of conversation. Among the suggested topics, according to a promotional video: the Northern Lights, meatballs, darkness, fashion, parental leave and the Nobel Prize.

I gave it a little spin, slightly expecting it to be a more immediate version of the pre-web NYPL query limited only to things related to Sweden. Shortly after an operator robotically told me – in English, the default language – “You will soon be connected to a random Swede somewhere in Sweden”, I was online with Tony, a 31 year old guy living in Sundsvall. Tony wasn’t very talkative, which I found odd for someone who willingly volunteered to have their phone ring anytime of the day with a stranger on the other end of the line. After much clumsy research, I learned that he called his nation “The Romantic Land” and that it is “rich in trees and has plenty of water”. That’s about all he offered when it came to Sweden, but after finding out about the background noise, I found out he has two young children. I then asked what he was doing, to which he replied that he was working on some migration advice, including things related to the influx of large numbers of refugees from Syria and Turkey.

“People here don’t like it that much,” Tony said. “But we try to do our best to show a good image of them. For me, that’s not a problem at all. Each of us is a human being and we have the same heart. But the problem is, some people think they’re the best. This is not true, we are all God’s people.

That’s all I got from Tony, who asked me a question – which I do – before telling me his favorite artist was Michael Jackson and then saying he had to hang up to answer a professional call.

Sebastian, the second Swede I called, was just as curious, meaning not very. In the few minutes we spoke, I found out that he:

  • At 25 years
  • Work in a restaurant
  • Lives in Landskrona, which I later learned (via Google) is a late medieval town
  • Was short of breath after walking four miles from his parents’ house
  • Recently lost a shoe

He didn’t seem to want to divulge much about his country, saying he wasn’t sure what to tell me. We talked about the weather for a while, as people do in difficult social situations; in terms of art he said, “I don’t really know much about art, especially just renaissance guys. ”

Especially since both men told me they signed up for the service because they wanted to talk to people from other countries, my experience with The Swedish Number was quite disappointing, although was glad they both speak english. Of course, I only spoke to two Swedes, and everyone has different levels of social skills, but maybe the communication systems built can’t get us here. But try it yourself; maybe you will find someone who, as the video suggests, will be able to tell you things like, “I know a lot about hunting, fishing and moonlighting.”

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Ballroom chandeliers, vast mosaics and woodcarvings await the curious.


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