When you visit Sweden, you notice many wonderful things: the beautiful landscape, the clean air, the kindness of the people. When you leave, the impression that in Sweden everything is calm and organized stays with you. When you move to Sweden, you understand what is the magic behind all of that, and that magic trick is fika.
The Swedes love to take it easy and take their time, and when things are getting too crazy, they know the importance of taking a couple of minutes off. At school, at work, at a meeting – wherever you are, at some point, your Swedish colleague will stop whatever you were doing and devote some time to have a fika. And you’ll join in in this cultural ritual. But what is fika exactly?
Fika is usually translated – or rather explained – as meeting friends over a cup of coffee, and possibly a sweet snack. No, not possibly: the sweet is mandatory (and it’s mostly a kanelbulle, a cinnamon bun). Having a fika implies coffee and a sweet. And a friend. And socializing. And this is what is so great about it. Fika is the break, is indulging in the smell of freshly brewed coffee, is the crunch of the pearl sugar that tops your cinnamon bun, is stopping whatever you were doing to enjoy some time off with a friend, fika is awesome. And it’s really big in here, to the point that the Swedes can take even more than one fika per day. I can as well, with great delight, but then I think of all the sugar and the caffeine I’m ingesting and I feel guilty. Even though I must admit that in the deepest winter, when it gets pitch dark at 15:00, I don’t mind a big cup of coffee in the afternoon to keep me awake. A few hours after the sunset my body thinks it’s time to go to sleep and starts turning off, and I need to find a way to keep it running until at least 21:00. Coffee is the way, and I think I understand why coffee consumption levels in Sweden are so high (the Swedes are among the heaviest coffee drinkers in the world, topping all rankings along with their neighbours Norwegians and Finns).
The Swedes drink their coffee black and with no sugar. After a year, I’m starting to drink it like this myself, but it took me some time to get used to like it like this. I’ve always been an avdocate of coffee with milk and sugar, but then a slight intolerance to milk made me reduce the intakes of that, and dieting made me cut back on sugar, so I slowly started to appreciate my coffee black. When I’m in a Swedish house, now, I don’t have to act like an outsider and ask for sugar and milk when offered coffee; now I drink it black like my Swedish hosts. Integration happens in strange ways.
And then there is the whole array of sweets that pair up with coffee to make fika complete. Cinnamon buns (kanelbullar) are the absolute go-to fikabröd, a.k.a. “fika pastry”. Sweden has a very interesting pastry tradition which I feel like I should explore more. But first I need to lose some weight before the winter. Because when in a couple of months the days will get shorter and shorter, I will start eating more like I did last winter, and I need to get rid of the winter fat I put on last year first. Ah, kanelbullar, it’s all your fault.
(Part of this post had been originally published in my old blog, where I was writing about my experiences as an international student in Sweden.)