I called a hotline and got connected to a random Swede. Here's what I learned.

I recently called a random 27-year-old Swedish dude. Let me explain.

In yet another successful attempt to cement their role as the coolest freakin' country in the world, Sweden created a phone number for the entire country.


Image via Svenska Turistföreningen/YouTube.

That's right, a phone number for the entire country. Call it, and you'll get connected to "a random Swede" with whom you can talk about anything: IKEA, meatballs, gummy fish ... seriously, anything.

It was created by the Swedish Tourist Association to help spread information about the general awesomeness of Sweden and its people, much like they did back in 2011, when they handed off Sweden's official Twitter account to be managed by ordinary citizens.

So I called the number, and I got connected to a guy named Rasmus*.

I'm a 24-year-old from New York City. He's a 27-year-old from Gothenburg, Sweden. And we had a surprising amount in common.

We exchanged names and tentative hellos, and I asked Rasmus a question that, in America, I would ask just about anyone within five minutes of meeting them.

"What do you do?"

"I'm just a Swedish guy," he said, and asked what I meant by the question. I felt pretty silly.

You see, in the unfortunately limited amount of time I've spent in other countries, I've noticed that "What do you do?" as in "What do you do for work?" is a question that hardly ever comes up. In America, it's a standardized bit of small talk that tends to carry an identity-defining amount of weight. In Sweden, Rasmus told me, it's irrelevant.

Gothenburg, Sweden. Not to be confused with Gothenburg, Nebraska, which is also lovely. Photo by Mike Cooper/Allsport/Getty Images.

"In a way, it's like 'How cool are you?'" he explained. "'Should I really talk to you or not?' 'Are you worth my time?' but when I meet new people I'm more like ... 'Who are you? What do you like? What are your interests?'"

Rasmus told me he doesn't even know what some of his friends do for work.

"To be honest, I'm not even really that interested. I don't really define myself by my work," he said.

That cultural difference aside, we decided to discuss our weekend plans.

"I like to dance," said Rasmus. "Gothenburg has pretty good nightlife when it comes to underground clubs. We have a lot of good techno and house clubs."

"I'm going dancing this weekend too!" I told him. (Yeah, I can cut loose.)

Photo by Daniel Robert/Unsplash.

I asked him what music he likes.

"I've realized that I like almost all music," said Rasmus. "I've caught myself digging to like Justin Beiber songs."

He also mentioned he likes post-rock music. OK, wait a minute. Post-rock music? The little-known sub genre of ambient melodies and melancholic sounds that is also one of MY FAVORITES?

"I love post-rock!" I told Rasmus excitedly.

"Amazing! What's your favorite band?"

"Explosions in the Sky."

"Boom! They're really really good!"

This was getting interesting.

We talked about Explosion's new album as well as taking long walks in the woods. "It's really nice to just walk in the forest, listen to post-rock," Rasmus said. "I think you get in touch with nature in a way that's ... I think it's kind of unexplainable. Serene."

Photo by Todd Quackenbush/Unsplash.

Then conversation turned to life in our respective big cities.

"You live in New York. That's really cool, man." said Rasmus. "I've seen it on TV many times, but I've never been there."

"It's very cool," I told him. "But living here is exhausting. It's a really intense environment. I like it, but I'm not sure I can do it for too much longer."

"I understand you, man," Rasmus replied.

Photo by Jake Ingle/Unsplash.

Rasmus said he lived in Berlin for three years. Berlin is city with 3.5 million people, but he got out of there and decided to live in Gothenburg, which has just over half a million people. He also visited London once. "It f***ing sucked," he said.

Big-city life is just about the same everywhere, it seems.

"I live in Sweden's second largest city now," Rasmus explained. "It takes me 15 minutes to get to central Gothenburg. 15 minutes' walk in the other direction, I get to like a huge piece of woods. It's a forest actually, with lakes and shit."

"Sounds amazing," I told him. I've always been a fan of lakes and shit.

My conversation with Rasmus lasted 25 minutes, and the similarities kept on coming up.

We talked about video games — the history of the Hitman series as well as settling friendly disputes over a game of Super Smash Brothers.

He told me about his one visit to America: a four-day business stint in Las Vegas. "It was nuts," he said. "It might as well have been the moon."

And when I asked him where else he might like to visit in America, he mentioned the Lower Hudson River area of New York State. Which is where I grew up — a stone's throw from where I am now.


Photo by Jon Ottoson/Unsplash.

In the end, I realized something pretty amazing.

While I expected the conversation to be interesting and stimulating, I didn't realize how much I'd have in common with a Swedish stranger on the other end of the phone.

Despite the oceans that separate our countries, Rasmus and I live remarkably similar lives. It's easy to say that people are the same everywhere, that we're all part of the same story, and that we all have more bringing us together than separating us. But now I see it.

Whether we're taking a stroll through the woods or totally crushing a noob in Rocket League, Rasmus and I were cut from the same cloth.

It's good to keep that in mind.

To call Sweden, dial +46 771 793 336

Image via Svenska Turistföreningen/YouTube.

True

When Sue Hoppin was in college, she met the man she was going to marry. "I was attending the University of Denver, and he was at the Air Force Academy," she says. "My dad had also attended the University of Denver and warned me not to date those flyboys from the Springs."

"He didn't say anything about marrying one of them," she says. And so began her life as a military spouse.

The life brings some real advantages, like opportunities to live abroad — her family got to live all around the US, Japan, and Germany — but it also comes with some downsides, like having to put your spouse's career over your own goals.

"Though we choose to marry someone in the military, we had career goals before we got married, and those didn't just disappear."

Career aspirations become more difficult to achieve, and progress comes with lots of starts and stops. After experiencing these unique challenges firsthand, Sue founded an organization to help other military spouses in similar situations.

Sue had gotten a degree in international relations because she wanted to pursue a career in diplomacy, but for fourteen years she wasn't able to make any headway — not until they moved back to the DC area. "Eighteen months later, many rejections later, it became apparent that this was going to be more challenging than I could ever imagine," she says.

Eighteen months is halfway through a typical assignment, and by then, most spouses are looking for their next assignment. "If I couldn't find a job in my own 'hometown' with multiple degrees and a great network, this didn't bode well for other military spouses," she says.

She's not wrong. Military spouses spend most of their lives moving with their partners, which means they're often far from family and other support networks. When they do find a job, they often make less than their civilian counterparts — and they're more likely to experience underemployment or unemployment. In fact, on some deployments, spouses are not even allowed to work.

Before the pandemic, military spouse unemployment was 22%. Since the pandemic, it's expected to rise to 35%.

Sue eventually found a job working at a military-focused nonprofit, and it helped her get the experience she needed to create her own dedicated military spouse program. She wrote a book and started saving up enough money to start the National Military Spouse Network (NMSN), which she founded in 2010 as the first organization of its kind.

"I founded the NMSN to help professional military spouses develop flexible careers they could perform from any location."

"Over the years, the program has expanded to include a free digital magazine, professional development events, drafting annual White Papers and organizing national and local advocacy to address the issues of most concern to the professional military spouse community," she says.

Not only was NMSN's mission important to Sue on a personal level she also saw it as part of something bigger than herself.

"Gone are the days when families can thrive on one salary. Like everyone else, most military families rely on two salaries to make ends meet. If a military spouse wants or needs to work, they should be able to," she says.

"When less than one percent of our population serves in the military," she continues, "we need to be able to not only recruit the best and the brightest but also retain them."

"We lose out as a nation when service members leave the force because their spouse is unable to find employment. We see it as a national security issue."

"The NMSN team has worked tirelessly to jumpstart the discussion and keep the challenges affecting military spouses top of mind. We have elevated the conversation to Congress and the White House," she continues. "I'm so proud of the fact that corporations, the government, and the general public are increasingly interested in the issues affecting military spouses and recognizing the employment roadblocks they unfairly have faced."

"We have collectively made other people care, and in doing so, we elevated the issues of military spouse unemployment to a national and global level," she adds. "In the process, we've also empowered military spouses to advocate for themselves and our community so that military spouse employment issues can continue to remain at the forefront."

Not only has NMSN become a sought-after leader in the military spouse employment space, but Sue has also seen the career she dreamed of materializing for herself. She was recently invited to participate in the public re-launch of Joining Forces, a White House initiative supporting military and veteran families, with First Lady Dr. Jill Biden.

She has also had two of her recommendations for practical solutions introduced into legislation just this year. She was the first in the Air Force community to show leadership the power of social media to reach both their airmen and their military families.

That is why Sue is one of Tory Burch's "Empowered Women" this year. The $5,000 donation will be going to The Madeira School, a school that Sue herself attended when she was in high school because, she says, "the lessons I learned there as a student pretty much set the tone for my personal and professional life. It's so meaningful to know that the donation will go towards making a Madeira education more accessible to those who may not otherwise be able to afford it and providing them with a life-changing opportunity."

Most military children will move one to three times during high school so having a continuous four-year experience at one high school can be an important gift. After traveling for much of her formative years, Sue attended Madeira and found herself "in an environment that fostered confidence and empowerment. As young women, we were expected to have a voice and advocate not just for ourselves, but for those around us."

To learn more about Tory Burch and Upworthy's Empowered Women program visit https://www.toryburch.com/empoweredwomen/. Nominate an inspiring woman in your community today!

Photo by Adelin Preda on Unsplash

A multinational study found that bystanders intervene in 9 out of 10 public conflicts.

The recent news report of a woman on a Philadelphia train being raped while onlookers did nothing to stop it was shocking and horrible, without question. It also got people discussing the infamous "bystander effect," which has led people to believe—somewhat erroneously, as it turns out—that people aren't likely to intervene when they see someone being attacked in public. Stories like this uninterrupted train assault combined with a belief that bystanders rarely step in can easily lead people to feel like everything and everyone is horrible.

But according to the most recent research on the subject, the Philadelphia incident appears to be the exception, not the rule. A 2019 multinational study found that at least one bystander (but usually more) will actually intervene in 9 out of 10 public conflicts.

The idea that people in groups aren't likely to intervene stems largely from research on the 1964 story of Kitty Genovese, a 28-year-old woman who was stabbed to death outside her apartment in New York, while dozens of onlookers in surrounding apartment buildings allegedly did nothing. However, further research has called the number of witnesses into question, and it appears that several did, in fact, call the police. Someone reportedly shouted out their window and scared the attacker away for a few minutes, and someone did rush to Genovese's aid after the second attack.

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