The fika. It’s about as synonymous with Sweden as ABBA, meatballs, and Tiger Woods’ ex-wife, and occurs more often than the weather here changes. It’s an integral part of Swedish culture, and is usually one of the first things foreign students experience when they arrive.
The fika is a Swedish institution. Swedes drink more coffee per capita than any other country except Finland.
But what exactly is a fika? What’s so great about it for Swedes to get their shorts all stuck in a bunch? Is it a good thing? Does it have anything to do with IKEA? As a matter of fact, where is the nearest IKEA? Can you recommend something there that would go with my carpet? Could you be the best man at my wedding?
Whoa, slow down there, buddy. Let’s take this one question at a time. Questions three through five have nothing to do with a fika. And unfortunately, I think I have an appointment the day you’re getting married. Sorry, pal.
But back to the fika. Basically, the word “fika” means a coffee break with friends or family (though if you ask my German-speaking grandpa, it means something else that can’t exactly be printed). It’s an example of nineteenth century Swedish back slang – in which syllables of a word were reversed – that originally came from “kaffi,” an earlier variant of “kaffe” (“coffee”). Nowadays, the fika is an institution enjoyed by everyone with a pulse.
So fine, you say, people just consume empty calories and talk. And yeah, you’re mostly right. But a fika can also be so much more.
Tired of studying? Have a fika. Want to catch up with friends? Have a fika. Want to schmooze that blonde bombshell you’ve been eyeing but want to take things slowly? Have a fika, son. And looking for a way to celebrate your “VG” test results? Then have a fika, Einstein.
The interior parlors of Teleborgs Slott, located on Linnaeus University's campus, are an ideal place to have a fika.
While not necessarily required, food oftentimes enhances the overall fika experience – unless you’re an aspiring supermodel or an individual such as myself who frequently forgets the importance of eating. Typically, fikas are enjoyed with “fikabröd,” a collective term that refers to all kinds of biscuits, cookies, and buns. Baked goods are also a popular choice, as is having the fika at a “konditori,” a coffeehouse/bakery fusion that may just be the greatest innovation in the coffee world since the coffee maker. The important thing, though, is that coffee is consumed – after all, Sweden is number two worldwide in coffee consumption per capita, second only to Finland.
Fikas can be highly intimate affairs – a popular choice at Linnaeus University is Sunday fika in Teleborgs Slott (I know, it’s pretty awesome to have a castle on campus) – but they can also involve more people than a ½-off sock sale at Wal-Mart: in May 2009, a record 3,563 people had a fika in the town of Östersund. Do you know how many sugar cubes that is?
When in Sweden, you will inevitably have a fika, and probably lots of them. In the 225 days I’ve been here so far, I’ve had thousands. Every time I’ve loved it, though all the caffeine has caused me to stay up a little bit more than I’m normally used to.
But there you have it, the mysteries of the fika revealed. Information has been transmitted, and with this newfound knowledge I suggest you do only one thing: have a fika. Now. Because somewhere in Sweden, someone else already is.
Why not follow the crowd?
Although it is possible, a public restroom in Gothenburg is usually not the best place to have a fika.