coffee break

For many of us, getting together for a coffee date with friends really is a once in a while occurrence. Coffee has turned into less of a social activity and more of a quick way to get caffeine into our systems. We order it to go instead of just sitting down with a cup…and enjoying. And, drinking a coffee is often a lonesome act, usually done in front of a computer—while working. In Sweden, a coffee date isn’t just something that happens every so often; it’s a cultural tradition that people participate in all the time.

Called fika, this Swedish custom is basically a social activity where friends, family or coworkers get together to visit over coffee. It’s such a core cultural tradition, that almost everyone does it. (Or, so I’ve heard.) The coffee is usually accompanied by a sweet treat of some kind. In fact, munching on a treat is an important part of fika for many Swedes. (What a great excuse to nibble on something delicious!) You can take fika with cinnamon rolls, cake, breads, croissants, muffins, cookies—basically anything that pairs wonderfully with coffee. (Although, it’s not uncommon for savory faire, like an open-faced sandwich, to join the mix too. Food preferences just depend on the person’s fika habits.)

Loosely translated to English, fika means simply “to have coffee.” (You pronounce it feee-ka). Fika is much less rigid than the more well-known British tea, which only takes place in the afternoon. In Sweden, you can fika whenever you want, although it too usually happens in the afternoon. Swedes use fika as both a verb and a noun. So you can fika every day or you can meet up for a fika. Swedes fika at cafes or invite people to their homes for a fika. It can last hours or just a short time. However you choose to fika, fikas seem pretty fantastic.

For us Americans, even taking a simple coffee break at work can be looked down on. Chatting with coworkers over a freshly brewed pot of coffee feels like slacking off. Our culture encourages nonstop working and little downtime. It’s not surprising then that we can’t find the time to enjoy a coffee date with loved ones regularly.

I learned about fika when I visited Sweden recently. I actually read about it in a book I purchased while in Stockholm. Throughout my travels, I participated in many fikas with my travel buddies without actually realizing we were fika-ing. (We often chatted over coffee and sweets at cafes and local coffee shops.) As I look back, I do remember that many of the cafes we visited weren’t littered with people studying or working over their computers, like you see in the U.S.. People were just hanging out and chatting more often than not.

Although the coffee and sweets are staples of a fika, it seems like it’s the socializing that really matters. Taking that time to chat with friends and family regularly in person, not over the phone, not through text, not by email, is such a refreshing idea. What a cheerful tradition to try. I, for one, would like to fika more often. How about you? Do you plan to fika?

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image: slightly everything