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Fika. Swedish Style. Posted by on Dec 12, 2011 in Culture, Swedish Language

After several years in Sweden and a move back to the United States, I realized I had picked up quite a few habits. Some decidedly Swedish. Like taking my shoes off every time I enter someone’s home. It’s just a nice thing to do in my opinion and it ensures that all of that gunk I’ve been walking on outside, doesn’t make its way inside.

One habit that I did not pick up was going out for a fika. Probably because I don’t drink coffee (on a side note, I was once told that me not drinking coffee made me a stereotypical American. Because Americans don’t drink coffee. Obviously.). But no trip to Sweden is complete without hearing the word fika on a regular basis.

A while back, Katja wrote about the classic snacks for a fika, and even took a look at the habit of fika-ing in cafes instead of at home.  Today, we’re going to talk a bit about the word and the cultural mainstay it has become.

First, what is it? Fika is a cultural phenomenon that is similar to English tea.  You’re supposed to have yourself some coffee, maybe some saft if you’re not into coffee, and some baked goods.  Fikas are common in the work place, where you’ll sometimes have both a morning and an afternoon fika.  They’re a common way to go on a first date. A common way to go on a last date.  A common way to meet new people, meet old friends, meet new colleagues.  Sometimes you might even have a job interview over a fika.

As you’ll notie above, there’s not much the fika can’t do.  It’s amazing really. The word itself is pretty impressive.  It can act as both verb and noun.  For example:

Verb form: Ska vi fika imorgon eftermiddag? (Shall we fika tomorrow afternoon?)
Noun form: Ska vi ta en fika lite senare? (Shall we grab a fika a little bit later?)

Fascinating isn’t it?  It gets better. Or at least for the linguistics amongst us it gets better.  Nationalencyklopedin has a very short, but very interesting (and unfortunately, now NOT free service) that describes how the word originated from a slang language used by marketplace merchants in Västergötland.  The Swedish word for coffee is kaffe, which became kaffi. Somehow, and this is where my linguistic knowledge hits a wall, the letters were rearranged and we are left with the word fika.

So next time you find yourself in Sweden and someone asks you out for a fika. Say yes. You’ll already have a great conversation starter (speaking of which, Katja has written a lovely post about a classic conversation starter in Swedish. Check it out.).

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About the Author: Marcus Cederström

Marcus Cederström has been writing for the Transparent Swedish Blog since 2009. He has a Bachelor's Degree in Scandinavian Studies from the University of Oregon, a Master's Degree in Scandinavian Studies from the University of Wisconsin–Madison, and a PhD in Scandinavian Studies and Folklore from the University of Wisconsin–Madison. He has taught Swedish for several years and still spells things wrong. So, if you see something, say something.


Comments:

  1. Alexandre Vallejo:

    “The Swedish word for coffee is kaffe, which became kaffi. Somehow, and this is where my linguistic knowledge hits a wall, the letters were rearranged and we are left with the word fika.”

    Letters are commonly rearranged in many languages all over the world as a colloquial way to express something that is done usually: e.g. in the South American spanish, precisely in the use of the River Plate spanish (Uruguay/Argentina)* common words are usually rearranged to express a colloquial way to refer certain words just like: “lorca” for “calor” (heat) “ofri” for “frío” (cold) “jermu” for “mujer” (woman/wife) “dogor” for “gordo” (fatman, husband, boyfriend) “trompa” for “patrón” (chef/boss) and the list could be almost infinite!

    *Certain regions also share this way to express common things with rearranged words just like in Paraguay, Chile and surrounding countries, but in these places are not so frequently as in the River Plate.

    ______________________________
    Alexandre Vallejo Roldan
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  2. MichiganLady:

    Well, this is one American who’s been fika-ing my entire life! Maybe it IS from the Swedish side; that’s the side I was raised with. But it’s a no-brainer: nothing better than coffee; pastries–well, the caffeine and sugar cancel each other out; and it’s a great excuse to have a friendly break and chill out.

  3. Me:

    Seriously? If Americans don’t drink coffee why is there a Starbucks on every corner?

  4. Erik, native Swede:

    Why don’t Americans take their shoes off? Do they enjoy vacuum-cleaning that much? Or are they never walking around with bare feet or in socks inside? I don’t get it…

  5. MichiganLady:

    Hi Erik! Americans when they’re at home for the evening DO take off their shoes, and wear slippers or soft moccasins when your feet get cold. But they don’t always ask guests to take off their shoes; there’s usually no place to put them! Not a lot of shoes, anyway. And many apartment complexes don’t LET you leave shoes in the hall. How do Swedes handle these practical considerations?

  6. Linn Olsson:

    @MichiganLady:
    Unlike many American homes, Swedish homes have a proper hallway inside our front doors, where we put our outdoor clothing. It is extremely uncommon to just walk straight inside someone’s living room here. The thought of building a house that way wouldn’t even cross our minds. We have something called ‘skohylla’ – a shoe shelf/rack – where we put our shoes, or we just put them on the floor. If you have a lot of shoes, you put some of them in a wardrobe or something. It’s also common to put away seasonal clothing if it’s not the right season. We also have something called ‘hatthylla’ – a hat shelf/rack – on which we can put hats, gloves, scarves etc., and also hang our jackets/coats (since the ‘hatthylla’ has hooks underneath). Coat hangers aren’t really common in Sweden.

    Walking into someone’s home with your shoes on is rude (having said that, I don’t think people actively think about it being rude, it’s more like we would never even think about doing it, because you simply don’t do it), mainly because it would bring a lot of dirt inside the house, and that isn’t exactly a nice thing to do to someone’s home.
    I hope this clarifies some of your wonderings 🙂

    /Linn The Pink Viking

  7. Marcus Cederström:

    Great discussion, everyone