• Sweden edition
 
Swede of the Week
The fuzzy hamster that took Sweden for a ride
The hamster in the picture is not the hamster in the article. File photo: JesseBarker/Flickr

The fuzzy hamster that took Sweden for a ride

Published: 31 Jan 2014 18:04 GMT+01:00
Updated: 31 Jan 2014 18:04 GMT+01:00

Börje burst onto the Swedish news scene last Tuesday when an odd wire story came across the TT news agency feed that supplies news to just about every news outlet in Sweden.

"Börje can't be municipality hamster" the headline read. In the brief telegram that followed, news editors could read that the city of Kalmar in southern Sweden had decided the Börje the hamster could not be a municipality hamster.

Readers learned that owner Bo-Göran Sunesson had tried to get rid of little Börje by turning him into a public record (allmän handling). Authorities refused, but laughed about the matter, and Sweden laughed along with them over the cute little unwanted creature.

Soon after the item hit the TT wires, Börje's plight was plastered on news websites across the country. (After considering the item at The Local -- how often does one get to write a story about a hamster -- we ultimately decided to pass as the details were a bit, er, fuzzy).

As it turns out, Börje has one even more remarkable trait than being a Swedish media darling:

He doesn't actually exist. 

For that matter, neither does owner Bo-Göran. They are both figments of the imagination of 21-year-old journalism student Dan Eliasson. Curiosity led Eliasson to employ Börje in a little experiment to learn more about public records in Sweden. But instead, he ended up learning more about the behaviour of Swedish media. 

“In Sweden we have this principle that some things are public, and these public records are very important for a journalist,” Eliasson tells The Local, referring to Sweden’s right to information act (offentlighetsprincipen). “Understanding these documents is one of the keys to journalism. I was also curious about how news travels."

Reflecting on Sweden's information laws and open access to certain types of public records, Eliasson decided to write an email to Kalmar municipality and test the rules “just for fun”.

"I have tried to get rid of Börje but unfortunately nobody wants the sweet little rodent,"  Eliasson wrote, posing as hamster owner Bo-Göran in the email. "Then the thought hit me that if I give him to you, he can be registered (as a public record) and then he can make many people happy."

Municipality officials refused, however, saying that a hamster could not be a public record - and Börje would not become a municipality hamster. The humorous story reached local media and then spread across Sweden via TT's quick summary of local news reports.

Eliasson marveled at how news of Börje spread like wildfire across news sites and social media. Suddenly, it seemed, Sweden was talking about Börje.

But the budding  journalist was even more surprised when only five journalists - and no one from TT - actually tried to track down the original source and speak with mythical owner Bo-Göran Sunesson, even though his email address was readily available.

So on Wednesday, Eliasson went public and let the media know: There is no hamster.

“At first I was just surprised that the story became this big,” Eliasson, who is in his final year of studies at Linné Univesity in Kalmar, told The Local. “And then I became confused, and then almost frustrated that no more than five people tried to find the original source. I was very surprised.”

Eliasson believes the story’s popularity was thanks to the way it tickled Swedish readers – probably in a way that it wouldn’t have if it had been about a dog or a more generic animal.

“I don’t know why I chose a hamster, it just felt right," Eliasson mused. "Maybe because it’s so specific, a gold hamster. But it’s a funny story, and (media) want to get hits on their webpages. It’s funny news stories that gets clicks. The hamster adds something, though; I can’t understand what.”

But the desire for clicks can be dangerous, and Eliasson said the most important thing he learned from the little experiment was to always go back to the original source.

“It’s not just a Swedish problem, but a problem with media in general,” Eliasson said. “As a journalist you are stressed, and you have to produce a lot in a short amount of time. You might not always find that you have the time to check everything, so you start trusting other media. And that is the centre of the problem. As it’s called in the scientific world, it’s cannibalization…you take someone else’s story and make it your own, so to speak. You trust the other media too much.”

At any rate, Eliasson achieved his goal of learning about public records and Swedish media, and the project turned out to be both entertaining and educational. But Eliasson isn't quite sure he's ready to put Börje to rest. 

“I have actually gotten quite attached to this hamster that everybody finds so interesting,” Eliasson laughed. “So I’ve thought about getting a hamster. He would definitely be called Börje. And I wouldn't give him up, there’s no way he’d be sitting in an archive.”

SEE ALSO: Sweden's most dangerous wildlife - revealed

Editor's Note: The Local's Swede of the Week is someone in the news who - for good or ill - has revealed something interesting about the country. Being selected as Swede of the Week is not necessarily an endorsement.

Solveig Rundquist
Follow Solveig on Twitter.

The Local (news@thelocal.se)

Your comments about this article

Today's headlines
National
Chainsaw man destroys house in family feud
The man used a chainsaw to destroy most of the Lidköping home. Photo: Shutterstock

Chainsaw man destroys house in family feud

A man in central Sweden has gone on a rampage with a chainsaw after a family housing dispute took an unexpected turn. READ  

National
Man frames beggar with stolen tablet computer
The beggar was detained for almost 24 hours after the accusation. Photo: TT

Man frames beggar with stolen tablet computer

A man in southern Sweden has landed in hot water after he stole a tablet computer, gave it to a beggar, then reported her to the police. READ  

Stockholm 'sub hunt'
Sweden ready to use force to surface sub
The Swedish Armed Forces have sent out 200 troops. Photo: TT

Sweden ready to use force to surface sub

UPDATED: Sweden's military has announced that if it finds a suspect foreign vessel in the Stockholm archipelago, it is prepared to force it to the surface "with weapons if necessary". READ  

Stockholm 'sub hunt'
Sub hunt: 'There is something out there'
Former navy officer Bosse Linden in Vaxholm. Photo: Maddy Savage

Sub hunt: 'There is something out there'

Stockholm's archipelago is the focus of the biggest military operation in Sweden since the Cold War. The Local is in the region's capital, Vaxholm, to see what residents make of the drama. READ  

Presented by CurrencyFair
CurrencyFair: Why it pays when making overseas transfers
CurrencyFair co-founder Brett Meyers

CurrencyFair: Why it pays when making overseas transfers

Tired of losing money when you send cash back home? Join other expats in Sweden who avoid bank fees and hidden charges by sending money internationally with CurrencyFair, an online marketplace where secure transactions are faster and cheaper. READ  

European Union
Extremist saves Sweden Democrats' EU group
Sweden Democrat leader Jimmie Åkesson. Photo: TT

Extremist saves Sweden Democrats' EU group

The EU group that bound several Eurosceptic parties including the Sweden Democrats has been saved by an MEP from a far-right Polish group, just a week after it appeared to have crumbled, according to a UK press report. READ  

Stockholm 'submarine' hunt
Timeline: Mystery 'submarine' in Stockholm
Sweden's Armed Forces are out in force after reports of a foreign vessel in the Stockholm archipelago. Photo: TT

Timeline: Mystery 'submarine' in Stockholm

The world has had its periscope on Sweden since the Swedish military launched an extensive hunt for what is rumoured to be a damaged Russian submarine in the Stockholm archipelago. Here is the timeline of events so far. READ  

Business & Money
Profit leap for Swedbank
A branch of Swedbank in Malmö. Photo. TT

Profit leap for Swedbank

Swedbank has seen its profits rise higher than expected. READ  

New coalition
Sick pay U-turn from Sweden's new coalition
Stefan Löfven has changed his strategy on sick pay. Photo: TT

Sick pay U-turn from Sweden's new coalition

Small businesses won't face rising sick pay costs, following a policy reversal from Sweden's new coalition government. READ  

Stockholm 'submarine' hunt
Vessel hunt continues at 'full strength'
Minehunter HMS Koster takes part in the search in the Stockholm archipelago on Sunday. Photo: Marko Säävälä/TT

Vessel hunt continues at 'full strength'

The search for a suspected foreign vessel in the Stockholm archipelago continues with "full strength" on Tuesday morning, according to Sweden's armed forces. READ  

RECEIVE OUR NEWSLETTER AND ALERTS
Gallery
Property of the week: Malmö
Gallery
PHOTOS: 'Foreign activity' in Swedish waters
National
Sweden deploys troops over underwater threat
Gallery
People-watching: October 19th
TT
Society
QUIZ: How good is your Swedish?
Blog updates

19 October

Getting it (Blogweiser) »

"Follow Joel Sherwood on FB Few watch baseball in Sweden. This is excellent when your team loses..." READ »

 

17 October

Editor’s Blog, Oct 17th (The Local Sweden) »

"Hi readers, Here’s the whole week of news in just 60 seconds. The most-read story was about a..." READ »

 
 
 
Business & Money
Get your own office in Gothenburg or Stockholm - free for a day
National
A Touch of Scandinavia: Reindeer in the kitchen
Lifestyle
What's on in Sweden: October 17th - 24th
Society
The nudity... and nine other things expat men notice in Sweden
Gallery
People-watching: October 15th
Gallery
Your views: Should outdoor smoking be banned in Sweden?
Business & Money
Sweden has 'large hole' in finances
Sponsored Article
Introducing... Finding a job in Stockholm
Society
Monster salmon caught in northern Sweden
Gallery
Property of the week: Lorensberg
National
Scandinavia's child bride
National
Ebola crisis: How is Sweden preparing?
Lifestyle
Sweden's The Bridge to become 'more Danish'
Business & Money
How Sweden is becoming a cashless society
Gallery
Stockholm Burlesque Festival 2014
National
How a little red horse became a symbol for Sweden
Gallery
People-watching: October 12th
Business & Money
The hottest start-ups from southern Sweden
National
What's on in Sweden: October 10th - 17th
National
Stockholm is 'best' region for well-being
Gallery
People-watching: October 8th
National
Five facts to know about Patrick Modiano
Society
My Swedish Career: A French fashionista in Sweden
Society
Swede's anti-bully Facebook tale goes viral
Society
Have you seen Sweden's viral subway cancer campaign?
National
Isis: Swedes linked to Turkish prisoner swap
National
Should Swedes be banned from buying sex abroad?
Gallery
Fredrik Reinfeldt's leaving presents
National
Five Swedish TV shows you shouldn't miss
Gallery
A tool belt, a casserole, and a book. Fredrik Reinfeldt's parliament gifts
TT
Lifestyle
Top five winter festivals in Sweden
TT
National
Sami reindeer herders win mine reprieve
Gallery
Property of the Week: Gamla Enskede
Sponsored Article
How to catch the first lobster of the year
Politics
Ten new minister faces you should know
Tech
First womb transplant baby in world born in Sweden
Gallery
People-watching: October 5th
National
What's on in Sweden
National
Sweden rethinks Afghan translators' protection
Society
Interview with Geena Davis: 'I want to be in a Swedish movie'
Team SCA
Sponsored Article
All-female SCA team takes off on Volvo Ocean Race
Latest news from The Local in Austria

More news from Austria at thelocal.at

Latest news from The Local in Switzerland

More news from Switzerland at thelocal.ch

Latest news from The Local in Germany

More news from Germany at thelocal.de

Latest news from The Local in Denmark

More news from Denmark at thelocal.dk

Latest news from The Local in Spain

More news from Spain at thelocal.es

Latest news from The Local in France

More news from France at thelocal.fr

Latest news from The Local in Italy

More news from Italy at thelocal.it

Latest news from The Local in Norway

More news from Norway at thelocal.no

Swedish Down Town Consulting & Productions
Swedish Down Town Consulting & Productions is an innovative business company which provides valuable assistance with the Swedish Authorities, Swedish language practice and general communications. Call 073-100 47 81 or visit:
www.swedishdowntown.com
PSD Media
PSD Media is marketing company that offers innovative solutions for online retailers. We provide modern solutions that help increase traffic and raise conversion. Visit our site at:
http://psdmedia.se
If you want to drink, that’s your business.
If you want to stop, we can help.

Learn more about English-language Alcoholics Anonymous in Sweden. No dues. No fees. Confidentiality assured.
AA-EUROPE.ORG/SWEDEN