Imagine coming to Sweden and only seeing the culture from a distance, and leaving without ever having actually met a Swede.
This is exactly what Visit Sweden, the team behind the award-winning Curators of Sweden Twitter account, wants to avoid – prompting them to launch “Visit a Swede” – a stepping stone in giving foreigners the “full experience” in the Nordic nation.
“We’ve targeted the international visitor here, this is their chance to be immersed in the Swedish society,” Maria Ziv, the director of marketing at Visit Sweden, tells The Local.
“They’ve listened and interacted online with our Twitter curators and this is our attempt to connect people when they’re actually in the country.”
The programme, launched just a few weeks ago, works hand-in-hand with local directories, as well as couchsurfing.org and Facebook to find events and to allow foreigners the chance to quite literally visit a Swede.
A user can log in to the official website and select an activity, be it finding a bed for the night, a companion for dinner, or even someone with whom to share a coffee in a local Swedish café.
Over 10,000 Swedes have already signed up to be hosts.
However, Visit a Swede isn’t only for tourists, with Ziv explaining that the expat community in Sweden should also look upon the initiative as a way to expand their horizons and add some Swedish telephone numbers to their contact lists.
“The problem when you’re an expat is you can become secluded, or can end up with only people from your own country,” Ziv says.
“If you feel you have another interest it can be hard sometimes to join teams, but this is an excellent stepping stone into hanging out without it being awkward.”
Furthermore, Ziv explains that the programme may help shatter the myth that Swedes can be cold or unwelcoming.
“Swedes are charming,” Ziv adds with a laugh.
“I’m not sure we are so cold. We have a thing where we don’t want to impose, but when we start talking we’re more than willing to share. Swedes can be a bit like ‘I don’t want to disturb or ask private questions’, but that won’t be the case here.”
As it’s already apparent that tourists are interested in the country, Ziv explains that Swedish hosts are given a free reign to put the country and its customs on show.
She hopes that Swedes will be more willing to open up with foreigners they meet through the Visit a Swede programme.
“The Swedes won’t feel they’re bombarding a poor tourist,” she explains.
“And when Swedish people pass that barrier, their pride will start to show.”
Similar to the @sweden programme, which has been dubbed the world’s “most democratic” Twitter account, Visit a Swede is a long-term initiative, and Visit Sweden is in no rush to push it on the public.
“It’s about respecting the target audience,” says Ziv.
“It’s not a campaign; we’ve made a commitment and we want to build it up. It works in the same philosophy as the curators – we’re providing the tool to let others make things happen.”
And with a peer-based review system, users can choose both who they want to meet and what they want to do in making a cultural connection with a Swede – opening the door to limitless opportunities.
“People can get really creative with it and we’ll see where that goes. It’s fascinating to think it’s not just based on what we define,” Ziv explains.
“Some people want coffee, sport, a walk…we have no idea, and that’s part of the charm.”