Thanks to the migration patterns of previous centuries, people from Sweden aren’t the exotic species in Minnesota that they might be elsewhere.
But I couldn’t ignore the invitation of the Swedish Tourist Association to call a “random Swede,” part of its campaign to get people to know the place.
In the campaign, Swedes agree to accept phone calls from perfect strangers.
“Hello, this is Luis,” said my first random Swede that I rang up today. “Luis” didn’t sound Swedish.
“I’m from Portugal,” he said, unaware that his greeting would probably deflate everyone at the Portugal Tourist Association.
“How’d a guy from Portugal end up in Sweden?” I asked.
“A love affair,” he said. “A pretty typical way people end up in Sweden.”
That pinned the curiosity meter.
Luis, an architect who now lives in Stockholm, met a Swedish woman while they both were working in Mozambique.
“She got pregnant and then we moved to Sweden and I fell in love with it,” he said.
Then he fell out of love with her; they got a divorce but he’s happy he has a daughter.
Mine was only the second call he’d gotten since he agreed to take phone calls from strange people.
“Where was the other call from?” I asked.
“Kentucky,” he said. “No, wait. Minnesota.”
A common mistake, I felt like assuring him.
Not wanting to tie up the line too long — another Minnesotan was probably trying to get through — I next dialed up Ann, who lives 40 miles south of Stockholm, but goes to work in the city each day.
“For just $80 a month,” she said, “we get a pass that lets us ride the train or bus as much as we want wherever we want to go around Stockholm.”
It’s as if she knew I can’t get a bus out of Woodbury after 7:50 a.m. for a lousy 8 mile ride to St. Paul.
She had already talked to people in Russia and Turkey, but I was the first Minnesotan.
Then she played trivia, asking me if I knew what the only other country in the world is that has Swedish as the official language.
“Finland,” I answered proudly, unable to keep the miracle of Google secret from a woman who works in the I.T. business.
She was watching a hockey game when I called. The Swedish team was losing and although she knew all about Minnesota being the state of hockey, I’m not sure she followed me when I said we are both bound by the pain of following marginal hockey teams.
In setting up its campaign, the Swedish Tourism Bureau provided guidelines to would-be callers. It suggested northern lights, darkness, meatballs and suicide rates.
I didn’t want to run up the phone bill asking Ann what is wrong with the Swedish Tourism Bureau.
(h/t: Mike Olson)