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.

Photo by Anna Shvets from Pexels
True

Increasingly customers are looking for more conscious shopping options. According to a Nielsen survey in 2018, nearly half (48%) of U.S. consumers say they would definitely or probably change their consumption habits to reduce their impact on the environment.

But while many consumers are interested in spending their money on products that are more sustainable, few actually follow through. An article in the 2019 issue of Harvard Business Review revealed that 65% of consumers said they want to buy purpose-driven brands that advocate sustainability, but only about 26% actually do so. It's unclear where this intention gap comes from, but thankfully it's getting more convenient to shop sustainably from many of the retailers you already support.

Amazon recently introduced Climate Pledge Friendly, "a new program to help make it easy for customers to discover and shop for more sustainable products." When you're browsing Amazon, a Climate Pledge Friendly label will appear on more than 45,000 products to signify they have one or more different sustainability certifications which "help preserve the natural world, reducing the carbon footprint of shipments to customers," according to the online retailer.

Amazon

In order to distinguish more sustainable products, the program partnered with a wide range of external certifications, including governmental agencies, non-profits, and independent laboratories, all of which have a focus on preserving the natural world.

Keep Reading Show less

Of the millions of Americans breathing a sigh of relief with the ushering in of a new president, one man has a particularly personal and professional reason to exhale.

Dr. Anthony Fauci has spent a good portion of his long, respected career preparing for a pandemic, and unfortunately, the worst one in 100 years hit under the worst possible administration. As part of Trump's Coronavirus Task Force, Dr. Fauci did what he could to advise the president and share information with the public, but it's been clear for months that the job was made infinitely more difficult than it should have been by anti-science forces within the administration.

To his credit, Dr. Fauci remained politically neutral through it all this past year, totally in keeping with his consistently non-partisan, apolitical approach to his job. Even when the president badmouthed him, blocked him from testifying before the House, and kept him away from press briefings, Fauci took the high road, always keeping his commentary focused on the virus and refusing to step into the political fray.

But that doesn't mean working under those conditions wasn't occasionally insulting, frequently embarrassing, and endlessly frustrating.

Keep Reading Show less
True

If the past year has taught us nothing else, it's that sending love out into the world through selfless acts of kindness can have a positive ripple effect on people and communities. People all over the United States seemed to have gotten the message — 71% of those surveyed by the World Giving Index helped a stranger in need in 2020. A nonprofit survey found 90% helped others by running errands, calling, texting and sending care packages. Many people needed a boost last year in one way or another and obliging good neighbors heeded the call over and over again — and continue to make a positive impact through their actions in this new year.

Upworthy and P&G Good Everyday wanted to help keep kindness going strong, so they partnered up to create the Lead with Love Fund. The fund awards do-gooders in communities around the country with grants to help them continue on with their unique missions. Hundreds of nominations came pouring in and five winners were selected based on three criteria: the impact of action, uniqueness, and "Upworthy-ness" of their story.

Here's a look at the five winners:

Edith Ornelas, co-creator of Mariposas Collective in Memphis, Tenn.

Edith Ornelas has a deep-rooted connection to the asylum-seeking immigrant families she brings food and supplies to families in Memphis, Tenn. She was born in Jalisco, Mexico, and immigrated to the United States when she was 7 years old with her parents and sister. Edith grew up in Chicago, then moved to Memphis in 2016, where she quickly realized how few community programs existed for immigrants. Two years later, she helped create Mariposas Collective, which initially aimed to help families who had just been released from detention centers and were seeking asylum. The collective started out small but has since grown to approximately 400 volunteers.