Ringing up a stranger for some Swede talk

Sweden’s tourism association created a hotline to connect the world to random Swedes. So Maclean’s rang up Martin Thuresson to ask about his country

Martin Thuresson in Uppsala, Sweden. (Photograph by Moa Karlberg)

Martin Thuresson in Uppsala, Sweden. (Photograph by Moa Karlberg)

On April 6, the Swedish Tourist Association launched a telephone number that connects people from around the world with random Swedes who have downloaded the tourist agency’s app. Callers are encouraged to talk about anything they like, as the campaign marks 250 years since Sweden became the first country to constitutionally abolish censorship. The campaign also serves as a marketing scheme to increase tourism, and the number, 011-46-771-793-336, has already received more than 15,000 callers. Maclean’s was one of them. We reached Martin Thuresson, a 33-year-old information technologist in Stockholm.

Q: Why did you volunteer to answer the phone line?

A: I heard of it because I work in the telecommunications industry. I also like the idea of talking to people [who] I don’t know to get new insights into what other people think. I spoke to a guy from Egypt and another from Italy. The number was created to remind the world that Sweden exists. Apparently it’s worked.

Q: Can you tell me about your job?

A: I work for a company named 46elks. We do international communications. When it comes to SMS and voicemail messages, we automate this stuff. For example, the Swedish number, you could [create] the same thing with our platform. I work five days a week, sometimes on the weekend.

Q: Can you tell me about your family?

A: My wife is from Ecuador, so I wouldn’t mind moving to Ecuador, which is a very nice country as well. We have no children. My parents live in the countryside. We try to visit them as much as possible at calm times. I have two brothers. I see them once every two months or so.

Q: What would you like people to know about Sweden?

A: I trust the society. It’s safe. I don’t have to worry about the future. Things will be stable. Private health insurance is not a thing here. There’s a lot going on here with privatized hospitals, though. They’re privately owned, and profits go to the owners. I went to some hospitals that were good, others where I was not so pleased.

Q: What do you do for fun?

A: I have a few friends in Stockholm, not a lot. We go skiing. We play board games. We go to museums sometimes. We go biking. I like The Big Bang Theory. [My favourite character] is possibly Leonard. I do have Netflix, but I almost never use it. I have it for free, from a friend who had an extra account. When you turn 40, 30, or every 10 years, your friends might have a secret party for you. Most times, it’s with some cake and some food. I think Indian food is very tasty.

Q: How much Ikea do you have in your home?

A: Most of it’s Ikea. I would say like 90 per cent or so.

Q: I understand you have a word in Swedish, sambovikt*, to describe the weight you gain when you’re in a comfortable, long-term relationship. Do many Swedes experience this?

A: Yeah, I would say so. It’s not extremely common, but every now and then you see people who gain the sambovikt. I’m an everyday activity kind of person. I don’t have a car. I go everywhere with a bicycle, train, walking, running and so on. In the winter, I like to go cross-country skiing. I do a competition that’s 90 km. We do it in one day.

Q: What do you know about Canada?

A: I know you have two official languages. I know the big cities like Toronto and Ottawa and so on. My big interest is not hockey. You’re definitely not the worst [hockey players in the world], from what I understand. My impression is that Canada is kind of awesome and independent. I think people in Canada are more calm and less reactive than Americans. I would say Canadians are of the more European mentality.

Q: What do you know about Justin Trudeau?

A: Who?

Q: One last question: what would you say is the meaning of life?

A: I would say it’s to make the best of it from a personal point of view and to make life better for people around you and for the people who come after.

Correction, Apr. 14, 2016: A previous version of this post spelled the Swedish word sambovikt as “sambovict.” We regret the error.

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Ringing up a stranger for some Swede talk

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