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Therese Iknoian

Traveler | Photographer at HI Travel Tales
Little did her parents know that a short trip to Europe in high school would launch a lifetime love of travel, languages and cultures. Trained as a news journalist, Therese Iknoian spent a decade as a daily newspaper journalist before launching a freelance writing career specializing in outdoor, fitness and training. All the while trotting the globe, her focus finally turned to travel. Fluent in German, Therese runs a translation business (www.ThereseTranslates.com) working primarily with companies in the outdoor/sports/retail industry. Also a French speaker, she loves to learn a bit of the language wherever she goes -- gdje je kupaonica? Мне нужна помощь! -- often embarrassing herself in the quest for cross-cultural communication and the search for great travel discoveries.
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Calling Sweden? You mean the entire country? Yes, you too can call Sweden and talk to a “Random Swede” and ask this random person picked randomly in Sweden about some random thing. We bit on the Swedish Tourist Association’s new promotion, The Swedish Number. We’re all over random.

Tentatively, we dialed the number www.theswedishnumber.com (+46 771 793 336), listened to a few foreign-sounding rings, then an operator’s automated voice with a Swedish accent that said we were soon going to be connected to a “random Swede, somewhere in Sweden.”

A moment later, there was a click and I heard a “hello” with that telltale lyrical Swedish accent.

“Hello?” I said back.

“Hello!” came the male voice.

“Hi there,” I said, “my name is Therese, and I’m calling from California!”

“Hello! My name is Mattias from Sweden!”

Ah, my very own personal random Swede!

Calling Sweden

The Swedish Tourist Association kicked off its newest promotion April 6, 2016, noting it was to celebrate the 250th anniversary of the abolishment of censorship. Now, HI Travel Tales isn’t sure why calling a random Swede to talk about random things like, oh, meatballs is celebrating the abolishment of censorship, but ok we’re with you.

According to a spokeswoman (in the United States, and we are not sure if she’s called her own random Swede yet), when you call this number from anywhere in the world, it is fed into “one of the largest switchboards in the world,” which randomly selects the number of one of more than 15,000 Swedes of all ages and genders who have registered to talk to…um…random callers. If the first choice doesn’t answer, the switchboard picks another number. And so it goes.

As of April 13, nearly 60,000 calls were received by The Swedish Number for Calling Sweden, according to the website. The United States leads the pack with a whopping 37 percent of those calls. The United Kingdom is next with 8 percent; while Turkey (6 percent); The Netherlands, China and Australia (tie, 5 percent); and Russia (4 percent) round out the top 5. Check The Swedish Number to see up-to-the-minute stats.

In fact, calls have been received from nearly 180 of 195 official sovereign states in the world.

A Random Swede named Mattias

Calling Sweden - how a random Swede signs up

Our Swedish contact, Mattias, 26, agreed to let us record the call to post on HI Travel Tales (listen to the entire call below). Since international rates will likely apply to a call and if you don’t want to pay or don’t want to dare the call, listen in to ours! We chatted with Mattias, as well as his father, Robert, and his grandfather, Ebbe, for about 20 minutes.

Our random Swede told us he had just downloaded the app to accept calls an hour before we were patched through to him on The Swedish Number. And we were his third call already! The first two were from Fiji and India, and they asked about the Swedish royal family, Swedish girls (we didn’t ask for details), and if everybody likes to fish for herring. That’s random.

HITT Tip: Sweden is nine hours ahead of the West Coast of the United States (thus, six hours ahead of the East Coast), i.e. GMT+1. Take that into consideration when you give a ringie-dingie to Sweden. And remember that regular international calling rates will apply.

Click here to listen in on our call with Mattias and his family.

A few highlights:

  • Mattias has spent five weeks in Florida with his family, and they traveled all over, including Key West and New York. “I hope it wasn’t summer.” “It was,” he says.
  • His favorite places for traveling have been Thailand and Spain, he said, but Florida was pretty nice too.
  • They’ve been not only to California, which HI Travel Tales calls home, but his father also got married in San Francisco. “Why?” we asked. It was rather random, it seems. He just knew somebody near by.
  • They live in Karlskoga, which is the home of the Nobel Museum, which is in a building where Nobel lived his final days.

Where should travelers to Sweden go that is off the tourist track?

  • Gotland, Sweden, an island in the East that dates back to the middle ages.
  • The Tripoint in the far northeast where you can stand in Sweden, Finland and Norway all at one time. Well, Mattias admits, unless you have three feet, you’ll just have to wave a hand in one of the three.
  • Of course Dad was off to Stockholm on the weekend for an ABBA music concert. We can’t make this stuff up.

What foods should non-Swedes absolutely try?

  • Kebab pizza – “It’s hangover food,” Mattias says. “Yea, it’s perfect.” Dad Robert chimes in that we should be sure to put French fries on it. It’s covered with a garlic sauce too. That’s what everybody eats on Sunday, we were told.
  • Swedish tacos – “Not meatballs,” he said. And they have a special seasoning called, um, “taco seasoning.” Ok then… That’s what everybody eats Friday, he adds.
  • Pea soup and pancakes – That’s what everybody has on Thursdays. Are you teasing me? “No, it’s true, it’s true!” Mattias says. “You can google it.”

We’d taken enough of our random Swede’s time in calling Sweden on The Swedish Number.

What do they think of The Swedish Number? “As long as people who call are serious, its’ a good thing.”

HITT Tip: Get on your call since the initial plan is for the project to run through June 6, 2016, which is the National Day of Sweden. But you never know….

Click here to listen in on our call with Mattias and his family.