SPOILER ALERT: It’s nothing rude or even vaguely sexy. Unless you find cakes sexy, in which case I like you already.
After spending September in the sweltering Vietnamese heat, the Swedish October slapped us in the face. With autumn closing in on us (hello wintertime!), we’ve been forced to give up on beach walks and outdoor picnics, and embrace more autumnal activities like running through leaves and having warming fika. But what is this elusive Swedish concept?
What is a Swedish fika?
Simply put, fika is the act of having a coffee break together. Though it musn’t include coffee, and can indeed be carried out alone. Sounds confusing? Well, to complicate (grammatical) matters further, it can be used as both a noun and a verb.
Yet fika goes beyond simply being an activity I enjoy – it’s an activity that’s fundamental to my life. And most Swedish people’s lives. Offices have fika breaks. And if you don’t take part in them, it’s hard to become part of the team. If you’re lucky, your employer even organises both a morning fika AND an afternoon fika.
Meeting up with friends happens over a fika.
Touristing in a new place requires an afternoon café stop-off (a fika!).
It’s an engrained part of Swedish culture, so much so that it has
its own Wikipedia entry, and even its own segment on the official website of Sweden. You can even fika in New York, London, and Singapore (to name a few places).
FIKA FIKA FIKA all day long.
Why do Swedes love fika so much?
The basic premise of a fika is taking time for each other. Whether it’s a savoury or sweet fika, the fundamental idea is that you are taking some time out of your day to enjoy the moment (and, most likely, someone’s company).
Swedes also, of course, generally have a sweet-tooth and happen to be the masters of delicious cinnamon buns and sticky chocolate ‘kladdkakor.’
Fika is essentially the Swedish equivalent of sitting down for a Turkish coffee, enjoying a cup of tea in England, or slowly awaiting a Vietnamese drip coffee.
Having grown up in Sweden – where a standard-sized latte can easily set you back 40SEK (roughly €4.50, £4, $5) – I’m used to savouring it. I can make one latte last for hours. I can slowly nibble away at a slice of carrot cake for 60 minutes or so. Swedes know how to make their fika last.
For foreigners this sometimes poses an issue. The awkward moment when your foreign friend finishes their coffee in five minutes flat, and asks “whereto next?” without realising said coffee was scheduled to last at least another hour.
Don’t wait till you’re next in Sweden to enjoy a fika though. Cinnamon buns are easy to bake at home. And personally I always stop for a fika no matter where in the world I am. (You can imagine the horror when we realised Vietnamese coffee bars don’t also sell cakes.) There’s usually a way of improvising it. If there’s a will, there’s a fika, as they say.*
*They don’t say that.