The Swedish fika. It’s an untranslatable word. It’s a verb and a noun. It’s a quick break, a catch up, a time to energise and a time to wind down. It’s a ritual and a tradition, a custom you may even say, but more importantly, it’s a state of mind.
If Swedes, often known to be distant and reserved people, are passionate about one thing, it’s fika. To fika is to sit down for a coffee and a piece of cake with friends, family, co-workers, classmates, strangers. You might ask how this is different from a coffee date or sitting down for a cuppa here in the UK, but the thing about fika is that it is deeply and completely integrated into the Swedish day of life. Your day is not complete without at least one fikarast – that is, a break for a fika. To quote IKEA, ‘it’s more than a coffee break, fika is a time to share, connect and relax with colleagues‘
Every morning when I go to work, we open up and sort out the most pressing issues, but about an hour in, before properly getting into the day, it is expected to sit down for 10-15 minutes with a cup of coffee to take a breath and chat with your co-workers. This short break sets us up for the rest of the day, and lets us mentally prepare for the work ahead. It doesn’t matter how busy you are, fika is a social institution established at all workplaces in the country. There’s always time for a break. This mentality doesn’t only help our mental health, but it actually also promotes productivity.
Don’t fancy coffee? A cup of tea or even a glass of water is okay too! Whether you’re munching down on a Swedish cinnamon bun, a biscuit, or even a sandwich, a fika is just a moment where you sit down to eat and drink, and pay no attention to anything outside of that very moment. Even if you’re not having a stressful day, a fika allows for you to disconnect with the outside world and reconnect with yourself and those around you. Even lazy days in front of Netflix call for a fika break, where you put your phone away and focus solely on what is in front of you. It can be 10 minutes at work or it can last four hours with your best pal.
Haven’t seen a friend in a while? Fika. Lecture is running on long? Fika. Had a long day at work? Fika. Had a short day at work? Fika. Celebrating something? Fika. Mourning something? Fika.
The fika in itself isn’t what matters per se, it’s about a life long dedication to setting time aside for yourself and your surroundings. Fundamentally, fika is a way of connecting. Much like the British, Swedes can seem very distant. We don’t speak to strangers in the supermarket and we definitely don’t say hello to people when we cross the street. But when we sit down to fika, all social expectations are ignored and anyone is approachable. Sure, chatting about the weather is nothing revolutionary, it’s done in every culture, but I think we all could do well by valuing it a bit more. At the end of the day, it shows human connection and identity. I may never speak to this person again, but in this very moment, I get to experience a part of their world, and however minimal that may be, connection and mutual experience is always enriching.
When it all boils down to it, fika is a part of the Swedish dedication to self-care. It’s an indulgence in the small but precious moments that make life worth living. We love cooking and baking, in fact it is very rare that we purchase ready-meals and pre-made baked goods. To prepare your own fika is most definitely a Swedish love language if there ever was one, and while our Cinnamon buns and Chocolate Balls may not be the healthiest, there is an emphasis on the awareness of what we put into our bodies. We eat to fuel our body and we fika to fuel our soul. Sweden’s one of the happiest countries in the world, and I’m not going to pretend that it’s all due to taking a coffee break or two everyday, but I do think that it plays a part. A study in 2013 showed that Swedes spend up to ten days a year just on these customary breaks.
I’m not saying you have to start drinking copious amounts of coffee and eat a full Battenberg every day, but I am saying you should start incorporating short, social breaks in your everyday life. Setting aside 10-15 minutes in the middle of your study sesh, not to scroll through your socials, but to have a treat and chat about absolutely nothing, because sometimes that is everything.
You can have a fika in the comfort of your own home, but if you fancy a traditional Swedish fika, why not head to Bageriet (The Bakery) in Covent Garden for a taste of some delicious fikabröd. And if you can’t make it to London, the IKEA foodcourt in Southampton will also do just as fine.