1. You will be united in mutual annoyance over Russia’s behavior. As you express your irritation with Snowden’s recent visa-approval in Russia, Swedish policymakers will express their indignation over Russia’s unannounced bombing exercise over Sweden this past Easter.
2. Prepare for plenty of fika in between meetings. Swedes consume more coffee per capita than anyone else in the world. However, despite their perceived environmentally friendly posture, it is worth knowing that only a very few trendy hipsters in the neighborhood of SoFo actually care if the coffee is fair trade.
If you do get to glimpse some fair-trade-coffee-drinking-second-hand-shopping environmentalists, do not be baffled when you see them all wearing Converse sneakers. This is normal. Swedes are obsessed with American chucks. Obsessed even though they run at an average price of 120 USD (compared to 25 USD in your home country.) There's a trade issue (read: opportunity) for you to discuss.
4. Zlatan Ibrahimovic is God. (He plays soccer.)
5. During the fika breaks, ask about traditions during Swedish crayfish parties. Most representatives from the Swedish delegation will likely share how they celebrated one of their favorite holidays. Also, feel free to ask why Sweden has become the largest consumer of the cheaper, frozen, environmentally unsound Chinese crayfish rather than organically grown Louisiana Crayfish. (Read: another opportunity.)
Trivialities aside, there are also three foreign policy issues that you and your staff will not need to prepare for:
1. Do not worry about defending your drone policy, targeted killings or even the so-called signature strikes. Swedes have not taken a clear stand on this issue. Even though Sweden is a strong supporter of international law, Sweden is a “neutral” country that tends to get uncomfortable during discussions like the War on Terror.
2. Guantanamo will be a non-topic. While Swedes dislike Guantanamo as much as Swedes dislike a neighbor who doesn’t recycle, this is a topic that will not be brought to the Ikea table. If it is, just ask if Sweden could accept a handful of the prisoners. Such a counter-question will likely lead to another fika break, because taking a stance on such a question would be political suicide for any Swedish politician.
3. Military cooperation is a special interest. Since the Swedish Armed Forces have been labeled as a “special interest,” you will not likely get to chat about opportunities for co-operation between our armed forces in peacekeeping missions. Even though the Swedish Armed Forces have one of the best reputations in the world, the Swedish delegation will steer you away from this “special interest topic” to discuss matters of trade instead.
As Jan Joel Andersson, a researcher at the Swedish Institute of International Affairs, has argued, under the Obama administration and Sweden's current center-right government, U.S.-Swedish relations have reached an all-time high, with common views on "free trade, openness and quest for democracy in the world." And while Sweden punches above its weight in the foreign policy arena, you, Mr. President, will very likely be met with lightweight topics during your talks.
Gregor is a political science Ph.D. candidate at the City University of New York and desk officer at the Swedish Armed Forces’ International Department. All comments are her own.