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Sweden is truly a fascinating country. It was the first to abolish censorship 250 years ago, and now, it’s the first in the world to have its own phone number. The Swedish Tourist Association recently launched The Swedish Number, where you can dial +46 771 SWEDEN (+46 771 793 336) and be connected to a random Swede anywhere in the country to talk about the Northern Lights, meatballs, politics and everything in between. The project was created as a way of opening up communication, allowing people to express themselves in a fun way and connect with folks around the world.
The only real drawback is that it’s not a 1-800 number, so if you call the main number, you will have to worry about being charged for making an international phone call to Sweden (costs may vary depending on your phone provider). The good news is the website does list an alternate phone number that will cost you roughly the same as a domestic long-distance call: If you’re in the US, dial 1-301-276-0600 to participate.
With an idea this brilliant — or crazy? — we couldn’t resist. Secretly hoping Alexander Skarsgård or someone from Abba would be on the other end of the line, TPG Associate Editor Emily McNutt and I decided to give it a shot.
The first thing you hear is an automated voice letting you know you’ll soon be connected to a random Swede somewhere in Sweden. After a few long rings, someone picked up — a friendly 32-year-old guy named Louis from Stockholm. Of course, there were a few minutes of awkward small-talk at the beginning, with the three of us introducing ourselves and talking about the weather, but then we started chatting about travel, something we could all relate to.
Louis asked if any of us had been to Sweden — Emily had been to Stockholm, I haven’t been there yet but am dying to visit — and they chatted briefly about things she’d done there during a recent family trip. We asked him which hotels he’d recommend and he told us there aren’t many chain hotels in the city, but he loves the Grand Hôtel, a five-star hotel in Stockholm. We asked about chain hotels but he said they’re basically the same in every city and a great way to meet other tourists and people who aren’t from Sweden — for a more authentic Swedish vacation, we should stay in an Airbnb instead and really get to know the locals. As for flying to Sweden, Louis recommended flying SAS or Norwegian Air nonstop from New York (JFK).
After mentioning that we were calling from New York and that we thought Sweden was really cool, Louis cracked us up by saying, “No it’s not. You live in New York.” I love how no matter where you’re from, you always think your city isn’t as cool as somewhere else, while the people you meet tend to think the exact opposite is true.
We asked Louis if he’d ever visited the US. He hadn’t but said he’s going to be moving to Chicago in a few months — a city he’s never visited — for a job. He seemed pretty hesitant about this daunting prospect, especially since he was hoping to be assigned to New York or Los Angeles, so we tried to reassure him by talking about how nice Lake Michigan is and introducing him to the idea of deep dish pizza — unfortunately, he thought we said deep fish pizza and sounded even more worried!
We talked about the places we hoped to visit someday — Louis said he’s always wanted to go to South America, especially Buenos Aires, and hike through Patagonia. He also mentioned he flies SAS all around Europe for work, opting for short flights over longer, scenic train rides.
Naturally, we eventually started talking about the Northern Lights, which he said are amazing the first time you see them, but still pretty cool the second and third time around, in case you were wondering. He told us about a town called Kiruna in the northern part of the country that has an Ice Hotel during the wintertime and is the perfect place to view them — the entire hotel is made of ice, melts in the spring and they have to rebuild it every year.
At the end of the call, we wished him luck with his move to Chicago and said our goodbyes. I’m really glad we decided to do this — it was really fun and now I want to visit Sweden more than ever.
Have you tried calling The Swedish Number? Tell us about it below!