"Calling Sweden, you will soon be connected to a random Swede."

Those are the first words one hears when dialing the "Swedish Number," a new hotline created to connect callers with local residents. A few flat tones later and the caller is patched through to, well, a random Swede.

One such call late Thursday morning connected with David Lamm, a product designer from the nation's second most-populous city, Gothenburg. Lamm, who speaks English, volunteered to field calls on Wednesday, which was both the day the service launched and his 31st birthday.

"We were sort of invited to answer the phone for Sweden and I thought I had to sign up," he said.

The conversation on Thursday was Lamm's seventh through the service. His first was with a pleasant man from Istanbul, who, like this reporter, first asked about the weather. (It was about 50 degrees Fahrenheit and raining when we spoke.) Lamm also spoke with two Americans, he said.

"The interesting thing with both of those guys is that they were sort of calling with a Donald Trump-ish agenda," he said. "They wanted to hear sort of 'What the hell are you doing over there in Sweden, taking all those immigrants, all those Muslims.'"

(The nation welcomed more refugees per capita than much of Europe last year, though that openness has not come without its problems. Authorities have been accused of covering up crime allegedly committed by migrants, resulting in a sometimes-violent backlash.)

Lamm's conversations were facilitated by the Swedish Number—46-771-793-336, or 46-771-SWEDEN—debuted on Wednesday and was conceived by the Swedish Tourist Association, a nonprofit that runs more than 350 accommodations including hostels, hotels, mountain stations and cabins.


David Lamm is one of the several thousand Swedes who have signed up to pick up random phone calls to a new national hotline allowing foreigners to chat with locals. (Courtesy photo)

It was launched to commemorate the 250th anniversary of the passage of what many say was the world's first press freedom law. The hotline itself appears to mark another first: It is the world's only national phone number connecting callers to local residents, the association said in a statement.

"We want to show the real Sweden – a unique country worth visiting with the right of public access, sustainable tourism, and a rich cultural heritage," Magnus Ling, general secretary and chief executive officer of the association, said in a statement.

Just after 11 a.m. on Thursday, that meant Lamm, who, for what it's worth, defended the refugees his country has welcomed.

"We've had problems in Sweden, of course, but it's mostly due to us being bad at integration projects,
he said. "I wouldn't blame anything on the people coming here, I mean they're fleeing for their lives."

Lamm shared his experience growing up with refugees from the Bosnian conflict: "I grew up with a lot of those that came then and that worked out really good," he said.

Though he disagreed with his two American callers, he nonetheless enjoyed the discussion.

"The conversations with them had been the most interesting because they had something to say," he said. "The other people calling were like, 'Hello, is this working? I just want to check out the service.' "

As of Thursday morning, more than 3,000 Swedes like Lamm had downloaded the smartphone app that allows them to answer the hotline, according to Jenny Engström, a spokeswoman for the association. The number had attracted between 5,000 and 6,000 calls at that point.


Tourists look at a view of Stockholm in 2015. (Jessica Gow/TT News Agency via AP)

She herself has taken part.

"I got six calls and it’s fantastic," Engström said Thursday. "China, Saudi Arabia — and they ask all different questions.” She also spoke with someone from Turkey and a man from Michigan.

"He asked me about how it is to study in Sweden, how it works, and is it hard to find a place to stay, stuff like that," she said.

Engström acknowledges the potential for abuse but said there are mechanisms to deal with that: All calls are recorded and will be listened to only if callers complain through the website, she said.

The lack of control is precisely what the service was created to honor: two-and-a-half centuries of press freedom.

Sweden continues to live up to its reputation for free speech, tying Norway for first in the 2015 Press Freedom ranking created by Freedom House, a watchdog dedicated to global freedom and democracy. It ranked fifth in a similar 2015 ranking created by the nonprofit Reporters Without Borders.

Globally, however, conditions for the media "deteriorated sharply" in 2014, according to Freedom House. Reporters Without Borders agreed, noting a "drastic decline in freedom of information" that year in its annual report. The number launched less than one month before World Press Freedom Day, which is scheduled for May 3.

The hotline will run for two months. There is a chance it will run beyond June 6, Engström said, but only if the nonprofit can find a sponsor to cover the high costs of maintaining the service.

Read more:

Life with ISIS is ‘really hard,’ discovers Swedish teen who joined jihadists

Even Europe’s humanitarian superpower is turning its back on refugees