One of the most commonly advertised aspects of Swedish life is that of fika, a term thrown around as frequently as “hello” (or should I say hej). It refers, simply, to a coffee break, but if that’s all it is, why do the Swedes covet it so much? Every country has coffee – and indeed, most European countries that I’ve visited have some sort of cafe culture. But for it to be so ingrained that it even inspired the name of a cafe in my small hometown, surely there’s something else going on?
According to SwedishFood.com (swedelicious recipes!), it’s important to Swedes that they make time for fika every day, if not several times. As well as stopping work for come caffeine and a sweet snack, it’s also about making time for friends and/or colleagues. Apparently, businesses with fika as part of their company culture are more productive.
I guess this does contrast with the traditional Italian espresso, which is literally intended to be a quick shot of coffee, not a lingering affair. And while I’m accustomed to passing time in a cafe at home, it’s not an integral part of my working day. But Swedish employees might even find fika breaks written into their company contracts. And come rain or shine, the cafes see business.
Supposedly, the word comes from the inversion of the word “kaffi”, once slang for coffee (kaffe), and while it originally referred to coffee itself, it evolved to encompass the accompanying sweet treat, be it a cinamon bun or something else, and socialising.
Perhaps my experience is too diluted with other exchange students to fully understand the cultural value of fika, but I can say I definitely appreciate it. My travels aren’t complete without a bit of people-watching or tourist planning over a coffee, so I’m very pleased to be in a city where you’re never more than a couple of minutes away from a cafe. “Anyone for fika?” is a common phrase among our friends, and it’s always answered with a chorus of resounding “yes”es. If nothing else, I guess it’s telling that the only thing I can do confidently in Swedish is order in a cafe.