The question is, do Swedes need to drink so much coffee that they have to have fika, or, do Swedes like to have so much fika that they end up drinking so much coffee? Columnist Anindyaningrum Chrisant Rystiasih investigate the Swede’s obsession about fika.
Fika. A little more than a month into school and I’m sure all new students know what fika is by this time. If you don’t know it, it’s about time to come out of the seclusion of your room and enjoy some Swedish culture! Why? Being a part of the local culture is what international exchange is all about. In the past month, I’ve had a fika practially everyday. No, actually I’ve quite often had several fikas a day, sometimes resulting in a caffeine overload. Oh well, caffeine overload I translate into being pumped for studying.
“Let’s have some fika!” “Do you want to go fika?” Fika is so many things at once. As a word it is both a verb and a noun, and as a concept, it transcends all social settings from the formal professional office break to the casual get together with corridor mates. Fika is a great tool to get people to come together voluntarily for a common reason, such as setting corridor rules. It is much more fun to go to a casual corridor fika rather than a uptight corridor meeting. Traditionally defined as an occasion where black coffee is served with fikabröd, fika has become a central activity in the lives of Swedes. I’ve heard in fact, that in the professional setting, fika is had typically twice a day, and if you don’t attend at least one of these, you could be singled out as ‘weird’.
The word ‘fika’ is an example of back slang popular in the 19th century. In this case an old variant for the word ‘coffee’ in Swedish, ‘kaffi’, has its syllables swapped to form the word ‘fika’. Now it is one of the first Swedish words anyone learns, and one of the first activities new students take part in.
In the past, the Swedish ruler King Gustav III deeply disapproved of coffee, fearing it to be toxic, implementing several bans and even ordered the famous ‘twins experiment’ to prove it. In this experiment, a pair of identical twins had to drink 3 pots a day. One twin was given coffee, and the other tea. In an interesting spin of events, the twin who drank coffee outlived the other twin and the King himself. In any case, coffee was not proven to be detrimental to health but the attitude did not shake so easily.
Despite banning coffee several times in Swedish history Sweden has for quite some time ranked in the top 5 countries in the world with the highest coffee consumption per capita. I guess the Swedes love their coffee too much to be stopped by any ban. The question is, do Swedes need to drink so much coffee that they have to have fika, or, do Swedes like to have so much fika that they end up drinking so much coffee? In my Swedish adventure, it is the latter. Back in Indonesia, tea is the drink for any occasion. However here in Sweden the smell of freshly brewed coffee wafting from my fellow student’s cup every lecture break has proven to be irresistible. I didn’t have coffee every day before, but now it’s hard not to have any with so many fika opportunities in a day. Hey, this is what I call ‘assimilation into the Swedish culture’.
I love that fika is such a loved and well kept Swedish tradition. It promotes social face-to-face interaction in a world where we are getting more and more used to using digital communication with no direct contact to another human being. Fika is a great excuse to get together with people and socialize, or perhaps discuss more important things in a relaxed and comfortable atmosphere.
Best of all, cinnamon buns galore!