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Tuesday, April 26, 2016
HELLO, WORLD / SWEDEN CALLING
GUEST BLOG—By Elanor
Sezer, a candidate MSc in Japanese Politics and Sociology at the University of
first heard about the “Call a Random Swede” initiative, I dismissed it as an
April Fools’ joke. Surely, a number set up by the Swedish Tourist Association
that connects international callers to one of 10,000 random volunteers must be
a joke. Who would really set up such a thing? And why? But the second time I
heard this national news, I started to doubt that this was a joke. And, indeed,
the third time I heard about the initiative was from my friend, who called me
and said he had installed this “fantastic app” that enables you to take random
international calls. “You should try it,” he said, adding an enthusiastic,
“It's fun.” And so I had to face the facts: My dear country now has its very
Sitting on my IKEA couch
the first thing I did was to install the app myself. The only thing I needed to
do to verify my Swedish-ness was to enter my local number. In the span of five
minutes, I had gone from being a regular citizen to a cultural ambassador for
my country. What can I say? It was magic. Feeling a sting of unfamiliar
nationalistic pride (I am, after all, Swedish, and we are not known for
nationalism, at least not the American variety), I sat down and stared at my
phone. It didn't ring. I cooked my meatball-dinner with lingonberry jam. It
didn't ring. I put on an ABBA CD and lounged in my IKEA couch. It didn't ring.
right in the middle of my daily think about gender equality and the benefits of
free healthcare, it rang! Excited, I grabbed my phone and answered (“Sweden
speaking”). As it turned out, the caller was a journalist from a small town in
the UK. “What is the deal with this initiative?”
the initiative celebrates that Sweden was the first country to abolish
censorship 250 years ago. Magnus Ling, general secretary and CEO of the Swedish
Tourist Association, elaborated, saying in a statement, “In troubled times,
many countries try to limit communication between people, but we want to do
just the opposite. We are making Sweden the first country in the world with its
own phone number and giving our fellow Swedes an opportunity to answer the
calls, express themselves, and share their views, whatever they might be.”
This is not
the first time sweet Sweden has fostered direct communication between ordinary
Swedes and the wider world: In January 2009, the Swedish Institute launched
@Sweden on Twitter, an account that lets a new Swede be the face of the country
in 140 characters max each week. The account, which is still running, was so
Swedish and successful that it received its own New York Times profile in 2012.
though, the campaign coincides with one of the largest annual events in Europe
that, this year, will be held in Sweden: the Eurovision Song Contest. The event
is, in a nutshell, one large promotion for the host country (the winner of the
competition the year before). It would take an exceptionally clever person to
come up with a low-cost/high return promotion campaign ahead of the televised
event that would further spark people’s curiosity; like, say, an app, perhaps?
The “Call a
Random Swede” initiative is a fun idea as it appeals to both callers and
receivers. It is exciting to connect with the outside world, and also
flattering that someone takes interest in your country. As far as promotional
campaigns go, it is a win-win concept.
Swedish made Ericcson phone didn't ring
But like all
promotion, it can only last so long. Tomorrow there will be another fun concept,
and this app will be forgotten in the midst of daily life. Which will, in my
own Swedish case, involve beautiful, progressive people and excellent pop
is a candidate MSc in Japanese Politics and Sociology at the University of
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