What is ‘fika’?

Are you at work right now? Do you feel tensed and overloaded? Well, why not go for a fika to chill for a few minutes? ‘Fika’ is a Swedish word, pronounced as ‘feekah’. It is a coffee or tea break that consists of a hot beverage and pastries such as cinnamon buns or Danish pastry, which you can enjoy with colleagues, friends or alone. In Sweden, fika is at the heart of socializing and if you do visit Sweden you are definitely going to fika a lot.

Fika is intimately connected to coffee and the Swedes love their coffee to such an extent where the average Swede drinks three cups of coffee a day, second only to the neighboring Finns. Surprisingly, coffee had a seedy reputation in the 18th century and was even banned in Sweden by its king Gustav III. The word fika was used a secret code referring to Kaffe (coffee). Fika proved popular and long-lasting. Consequently, the Swedes love for the beverage triumphed and coffee’s popularity rocketed in the early 19th century. Coffee houses (Kaffehus)turned into pastry shops (Konditori) which gave birth to the fika tradition. People would dress up elegantly on Sundays for a fika at the local Konditori.

Nowadays, a typical Swedish fika is a ritual made up of a sweet bun and a cup of coffee. If you fancy tea rather than coffee, it is still a fika, as with any kind of soft drink, lemonade or milk. 

Nevertheless, the only limitation of what counts as a fika is that it should be taken between meals and isn’t a proper meal in itself, though it can stretched at times. For example, the sandwich fika known as smörgåsfika includes sandwiches and can even replace a cooked lunch or dinner.

Can you fika alone? You can, however the fika is very much of a social institution. In fact, a fika is by far the most common way for Swedes adults to socialize with colleagues, family and friends. At the majority of Swedish workplaces everyone takes a fika break called fikaraster or kafferaster before lunch and another one in the afternoon. Typically these breaks are spent in groups, those who work together gather around coffee and sweet treats, to laugh and talk about their vacation trip, the wedding they went to, weekend plans or the last movie they watched.

To decrease the amount of stress due to heavy workloads, many companies in Sweden have mandatory fika breaks of at least once a day. The aim is to encourage a healthy working environment ensuring the staff takes a much-needed break from work. Swedish companies like their other Scandinavian counterparts, have a ‘flat’ organization rather than a hierarchical one and as such fika is an opportunity for small issues or grievances to come to light. Hence, talking about tiny matters that get in the way of your work is a natural part of any fika chit chat. As such managers get to listen to tiny issues an employee would typically avoid to bring up by emailing, calling or knocking on his/her door, and fix them before they turn into actual problems. Fika therefore contributes to the smooth running of a workplace. 

Of course, fika does not solely take place at work. If you are meeting up with an old friend in town or at their place, unless you are having a proper meal or going to the pub for a beer, you will most probably be having fika. It does not matter if you meeting someone alone or hanging out with a group, it will still be fika. Many other social activities, like club meetings, church services or evening courses will include or conclude with fika.

Even when it comes to dating, the Swedes consider fika as an integral part of it. What can be better than a cozy coffee shop’s atmosphere? Going out with someone you met online, will most likely take place at a cafe or a traditional Konditori for fika. 

For retirees, fika is deeply anchored in their daily routine whether they live at home or in a retirement home. Older adults often feel lonely and taken for granted. A fika allows them to socialize by chatting with other people of the same or different age groups (it doesn’t matter). They get to remember their good old days and forget about the fact that they are away from their loved ones.

I used to grab my morning latte from the nearby coffee shop and hurry to work while slurping it in a jiffy like any hectic New Yorker. Fika taught me to slow down, take a few extra minutes and enjoy the present moment alone or with company. Comment below and tell us about your favorite pastries and snacks you usually have when you fika!