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Call A Random Swede? We Tried It Out

The Swedish Number project was launched to connect people from different countries and foster a curiosity about Sweden. The Swedish Number/Screen shot by NPR hide caption

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The Swedish Number/Screen shot by NPR

The Swedish Number project was launched to connect people from different countries and foster a curiosity about Sweden.

The Swedish Number/Screen shot by NPR

Sweden got its own phone number and invited the world to call.

As a way to "spark people's curiosity about Sweden" and foster communication between people from different countries, Sweden's tourism association launched "The Swedish Number," a project that connects anyone in the world with a phone to a random Swede. Swedes participate by downloading an app that patches the calls through to them.

The premise is simple: 1) Call Sweden's phone number — keep in mind it's international; 2) Chat with a Swede about anything you want — suggested topics include meatballs, darkness and feminism.

Even though it was nearing midnight in Sweden, this blogger gave it a try.

A few rings, and then, "Hello?"

I reached 19-year-old Artur Söderlund, a teacher who lives on the island of Gotland in the middle of the Baltic Sea. If calling up a stranger on the other side of the world at midnight sounds awkward, that's because it is. I stumbled through introductions before getting down to business.

Swedish meatballs — does everyone love them?

"Yes, of course," he said earnestly.

Dealing with extra darkness in the winter?

"You have to think of how long Sweden is," he said. "The darkness during winter is a problem for the people in the north, but in the south we don't have that really dark extreme."

Swedish feminism? (The country distributed copies of Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie's feminist manifesto, "We Should All Be Feminists," to every 16-year-old student in the country.)

"I think overall it's quite good," Söderlund said. "But many of the feminists today are quite radical and say things like 'all men are pigs.' And such comments I disagree with."

With the suggested basics covered, I ventured a question about my own personal favorite aspect of Swedish life: fika, which is basically a mandatory snack time when people socialize over coffee and pastries. I knew many foreigners like myself harbored a special fondness for the custom — was it as highly valued by Swedes?

"Yes, fika. It's a great part of our culture. It keeps us together in a way," he said, explaining that it's different from, say, English teatime in that fika breaks are an integral part of the paid workday.

Söderlund told me I was his 10th call of the day and that he'd spoken with people from Turkey, Belgium, Finland and Egypt. According to The Swedish Number website, most of the calls so far have come from Turkey and the U.S., with the U.K., Russia and Germany rounding out the top five.

Since it was launched on Wednesday, nearly 10,000 calls have been connected to random Swedes.

"I think it's positive for people to easily get to the information about this wonderful country," Söderlund said.

In all, the conversation was lovely, especially compared with the experience of a reporter who reached someone who didn't speak English, and another reporter who got a foul-mouthed Swede who evidently supports Donald Trump.

Have you called Sweden? Let us know how it went!

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