swedish fika

The art of fika

Perhaps it has kept you awake at night as well, that age-old question: “What in the world is fika?” The question is one of life’s greater ones. Understandably so, since the word fika has such enormous power.

It can be announced any time in the day, whereupon everyone stops whatever they’re doing – the surgeon drops her scalpel, the painter his bucket, the mother her child – and they resound in unison the word “fika”. They then come running, trampling down whoever is in their way. To have … fika.

So what is Swedish fika then?

Well, it’s something like having coffee. Although it’s not. Fika is more like an abstraction. The word doesn’t correspond to any specific component on the table. It doesn’t mean coffee, or tea (or biscuits) although it usually involves either of those. There’s a tacit agreement that fika must include something sweet. Whoever abuses the word by serving, say, coffee and sandwiches and explicitly call it fika will be met with grunting and frowning. It’s the ultimate anticlimactic crime. Children who hear the “fika-call” and are served fresh fruit will develop trust issues. We’re talking cake here. Or cookies. Or biscuits. Anything that’s incompatible with your beach readiness, basically.

Fika is both a verb and a noun. You can say “ska vi fika?” (verb), but you can also say “vill du ha fika?” (noun). In other words, fika is both the activity (“jag fikar”) and the content (“vi tar en fika”).

In Swedish offices, there’s usually a “fika break” twice a day, in addition to the lunch break. In between the breaks, Swedes work, unless they’re having coffee, which, as we have established, is not fika.

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