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One of the very first words of Swedish, right after hej and tack, that every foreigner learns is fika. Which also happens to be my favorite Swedish word, too. And you’d be hard pressed to find a word more Swedish to the core than fika. You could even say that fika is a social institution, and as such – a quintessential part of Swedish culture.
And that’s true. It’s hard to even imagine life in Sweden without fika.
But what is it exactly? That depends on who’s talking. And to whom. And when. And in what context. Does it sound complicated? It’s not, really.
At its most basic, fika means “to have a coffee break”. It can also be a noun meaning “a coffee break”. But that’s not all. It can also imply a date, or a meeting, or simply getting together over coffee, tea and snacks. And speaking of snacks – they’re of paramount importance. Drinking coffee (or tea) by itself does not a fika make. You need to have fikabröd to go along with your drinks. Oddly enough, fikabröd is not bröd (bread) at all. Rather, it means all kinds of sweet goodies you can much on while enjoying your beverage of choice.
Now you can understand why fika is my favorite Swedish word, and the act of having fika – my favorite Swedish custom. When a friend calls and asks if you want to fika, you know you can look forward to a pleasant afternoon meeting over fragrant tea (or a steaming cup of java) and a slice of pie. You relax, catch up on what’s new, gossip about the latest happenings and watch the world go by. You have a fika.
Fika is also observed in the professional world, and anyone who ever attempted to conduct business in Sweden between the hours of 9 and 9:30AM is well aware of this fact. Its afternoon equivalent happens around 3PM. All activity stops while the employees head to fika rooms in their workplaces and perform their time-honored ritual of socializing, coffee drinking and donut munching.
In a family setting, fika can take place anytime. Whenever you feel like a snack, you make some coffee and fika till your heart’s content. As you can imagine, all this massive coffee drinking turned Sweden into the number one consumer of java per capita in the world.
And how the word fika came about is a very cool example of backslang (a sort of Pig Latin, or Verlan) that made its way into common use. Back in the olden days of 19th century Sweden, the Swedish word for coffee was pronounced “kaffi”. If you flip the syllables around, guess what you get? Yep. Fika.
Now if you excuse me, my friend is waiting.
Time for a little fika break.