“I got a bit of a shock when you called. I thought what should I say and in what language?” is Nina's immediate reply when an automatic switchboard connects The Local to her Gothenburg home in western Sweden.
The 40-year-old is one of the first Swedish voices answering a new hotline set up by the Swedish Tourist Association.
Here's how it works: anyone based outside of Sweden* can dial the so-called 'Swedish Number'. When they do, they're transferred to a random Swede who has signed up via an app.
What happens next is up to the caller and the Swede, but the basic idea is to promote Sweden abroad and that foreigners should get a chance to have all their Sweden-related questions answered by real people rather than tourism officials.
“We want to show a unique and genuine Sweden – a country worth visiting, with the right to roam, sustainable tourism and a rich cultural heritage,” said Magnus Lind, CEO of the tourism association, in a statement.
“We also want to create pride and knowledge about Sweden, nationally as well as internationally.”
According to the organization, the campaign, which will see an unlimited number of citizens sign up for a set period of time to answer the same national phone number, is the first of its kind.
“In the digital world we live in the real conversation becomes ever more important. That's why we're giving the Swedes the opportunity to, as the first country in the world, get their own phone number (…) which gives all citizens a fair chance to express themselves and offer tips about what to do here,” said Lind.
Nina, who does not want to give her surname, says she is a member of the Swedish Tourist Association and signed up at around 11am on Wednesday after she got an email from the organization.
“I thought it was a fun idea. I hope to get to hear new thoughts about Sweden and why people want to come here. I'm very curious about why people want to come to this cold country in the north,” she told The Local after we dialled the Swedish number (which can be found here) at random.
By 3.30pm, 189 people from countries as diverse as the United Kingdom, Turkey and Germany had called the number, according to the official website, while around 530 Swedes had signed up to answer the phone. Nina, however, revealed that she was still waiting for someone other than The Local to be put through to her.
“If they want to come to Gothenburg, I'm going to tell them to try our local ice cream brand 'Lejonet och Björnen'. But other than that I don't really know what to talk about, it depends on who calls me and what they're interested in,” she said.
*We managed to do it from Stockholm using one of the team's UK mobile phone