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Belgium's wacky new tourism campaign lets you call a random person from Brussels

Figuring out what to expect for an upcoming trip can be a bit overwhelming, so what better way to get some real advice than to call a local at random on an Internet phone? That’s the latest creative plan emerging from a tourist agency in the Belgian capital of Brussels, a city that has suffered some not-so-great PR in the last few weeks with terror alerts and potential links to the devastating Paris attacks of last year.

But while the media has a way of exaggerating things (or at the very least, presenting a rather one-sided story), Brussels natives may be able to paint a more accurate picture from on the ground. Say hello, literally, to the #CallBrussels project, involving three yellow outdoor telephone booths set up across the city, the people of Brussels, and you.

Between January 7 and January 11 (sorry, it’s over now!) curious outsiders were invited to call in to the city center and speak directly with a Belgian. Located in “three emblematic locations of the Brussels-Capital Region: at the Mont des Arts, on the Place Flagey and on the Place Communale in Molenbeek,” the project sought to “foster exchanges between the main players of tourism in Brussels (namely tourists from the following countries: France, the Netherlands, Germany, the United Kingdom, Italy, and Spain) and the people of Brussels.” And while you can’t participate in the calling process anymore, never fear — a webcam captured all the interactions and answers, and will soon be uploaded to www.call.brussels.

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“The people of Brussels are proud of their region and are no doubt eager to re-establish the truth regarding the situation in Brussels,” Brussels tourist board said in a statement. “Through this action, visit.brussels gives them the possibility of expressing themselves on the topic and of revitalizing the economic life of Brussels by persuading tourists not to cancel their trip to the city.”

Apparently, the phone lines stayed quite busy during their short-lived hours of operation, with foreigners and locals alike delighting in the conversations. “Its nice to talk to someone halfway around the world,” 26-year-old student Bart Westerhof told the Guardian about his conversation with a woman from Bolivia. “It is a creative idea to get [positive] attention back on Brussels, but I have no idea how useful it is.”