Driving home yesterday I was listening to CBC Radio’s Home Stretch with Doug Dirks and they were talking about an amazing initiative “Dial-a-Swede” (http://theswedishnumber.com/) of the Swedish Tourist Association.
The idea is simple: you can dial a number from anywhere in the world to talk to a random Swedish resident (who has signed up from the program by downloading an app). Sweden is celebrating 250 years of abolishing censorship by opening the country to the curiosity of the world. They want the world to learn about the Swedish culture and mindset and have chosen its own people to represent the country.
The radio host then proceeded to call the number and lo and behold, a random kind funny Swedish guy picked the phone from the other side of the world in Stockholm. The conversation was funny and heart-warming at the same time. The Swedish guy was proud to represent his country and eager to answer questions. In the past three hours he had talked to people from 10 different countries. He fondly recalled how the boy from Pakistan had the best questions about sight seeing in Sweden.
A few stereotypes about Sweden were taken down: not everyone is blonde with blue eyes. And some were further established: everyone does love Abba and IKEA really is a big deal. Some Canadian stereotypes were also discussed: does everyone like hockey and the great outdoors?
The conversation sparked in me a curiosity about Sweden that no book, movie or tourism ad had been successful in doing. The program has checks and balances to make it run smoothly, but drives on the basic principles of humanity: curiosity to learn about others and kindness towards strangers.
Of course , all this made me wish, there was a similar program for all around the world. What a beautiful and simple world it would be, if we did not make assumptions about others but simply picked the phone to talk to them.
Imagine a program “Dial a Pakistani”- where anyone in the world could call a random Pakistani and learn about their mindset, thoughts and ambitions. How it would change perceptions to know the kind and tolerant average Pakistani, what they like to cook and eat, how they love their children and have hopes for them- just like anyone in the world.
Small initiatives like this give me big hopes for our world. Maybe our kids will be OK after all. Maybe we will all learn to be more tolerant, global and inclusive in our mindset by realizing that the “Others” are just like us and simply a conversation away.
So will you call a random Swede? Do tell me if you do! I know I will.