• Sweden's news in English

Is Sweden's 'fika' break concept going global?

AFP/The Local · 9 Jun 2015, 17:34

Published: 09 Jun 2015 10:34 GMT+02:00
Updated: 09 Jun 2015 17:34 GMT+02:00

Facebook Twitter Google+ reddit

The French have their wine, the British have their tea, Spaniards can't get enough of nibbling on good quality ham and Germans are suckers for sausages.

For Swedes, it's all about "fika", the de rigueur daily coffee break with a sweet nibble that is a social institution.

Sweden's almost ten million inhabitants account for one percent of the world's coffee consumption, making it the second-biggest consumer behind Finland.

Coffee is drunk with breakfast and after meals, but it is the mid-morning and mid-afternoon coffee breaks -- "fika" -- that are almost sacrosanct, factored into everyone's daily schedules whether they're at work, home, running errands in town or taking a hike in the outdoors.

If you live in Sweden, you'll know exactly what we're talking about.

"Fika", pronounced fee-ka, is both a noun and verb, and designates a moment, usually planned in advance, alone or with friends or coworkers, to savour a cup of coffee or tea or even juice and eat something sweet, usually a cinnamon bun, pastry, cake or even a light sandwich.

For Swedes, the art of the Swedish "fika" in no way compares to a few minutes at the office watercooler, or meeting up with a friend for an espresso in a French cafe. In Sweden, people stop what they're doing to have a "fika" at least once a day, sometimes twice.

Now it seems the concept is starting to get greater global recognition, thanks to Swedish coffee shops abroad and a growing amount of literature in English on the subject.

"Life without fika is unthinkable," according to the book "Fika: The Art of the Swedish Coffee Break" written by Swedes Anna Brones and Johanna Kindvall and published in the US in April.

"Fika is also the art of taking one's time," Brones told the AFP news agency this week, explaining that it's more than just coffee and a slice of cake: it's about making a commitment to slow down and take a break from the rest of the day's plans and routines.

"In the United States for example, you get your coffee to go. In Sweden, you sit down, you enjoy the moment, and that's what people want to do more and more."

READ ALSO: Seven delicious dates in the Swedish calendar

Sergio Guimaraes of the Swedish Institute which promotes the country abroad says he agrees that the concept can puzzle visitors.

"It throws people off who come here from other cultures. It arouses their curiosity and they don't know what to make of it," he said.

Swedish friends love to meet for fika. Photo: TT

But "fika" is growing in popularity outside Sweden.

"Sweden is very trendy right now, and since 'fika' is a Swedish tradition that makes it even more cool," said Brones, co-author of the new book dedicated to "fika".

Evidence can be found in the numerous eponymous cafes offering Swedish "fika" that have popped up around the world in recent years, including London, New York, Toronto, Australia and Singapore.

"There is a growing interest in Swedish food which is linked to Swedish authenticity and nature," Guimaraes adds.

In addition, he adds that "sweets have a special standing in Sweden. It's one of the few countries in the world that has special days dedicated to a specific cake or a pastry, from Waffle Day to Cinnamon Bun Day."

However other countries have a lot of catching up to do if they want to truly embrace the Swedish art of taking a coffee break.

Swedes have been drinking coffee since 1685, and it became a common and widespread drink in the 1800s. But it is not known when the tradition of having a daily fika began.

The use of the slang word "fika" first appeared in 1913, and is believed to be an inversion of the two syllables in the Swedish word for coffee, "kaffe".

The word also has many derivatives: a "fik" is a cafe where you have your fika; "fikarum" is the room at a workplace where staff meet for coffee; "fikasugen" means to crave a fika, "fikapaus" is to take a break from whatever you're doing to have a "fika".

READ ALSO: 'Swedes need to ditch cakes at coffee time'

"Fika" is also a natural part of the day in the workplace -- and stopping work to sit down for a mug of java and a chat with colleagues is not considered goofing off from one's duties.

"Studies show that people who take a break from their work do not do less. It's actually the opposite," says Viveka Adelsward, a professor emeritus in communications at Sweden's Linkoping University.

"Efficiency at work can benefit from these kinds of get-togethers."

Story continues below…

Do you have fika with your colleagues? Photo: TT

At the Stockholm offices of the Swedish handball federation, employees meet up in the kitchen twice a day for 15 minutes, at 9:30 am and 2:30 pm, to have coffee and a pastry.

"It gives us a chance to talk about what we're doing. Ideas take shape and that way we can avoid a lot of meetings," says the head of the federation Christer Thelin.

"By law you're entitled to a five-minute break per hour worked. For the fika we compile these five minutes into one 15-minute break, we satisfy our caffeine craving, and we talk about everything: a lot about work, but also current affairs and a bit of personal stuff too," adds employee Lasse Tjernberg.

So it turns out having "fika" could even benefit your career. Time to put the kettle on...

READ ALSO: Austria's most tasty desserts




For more news from Sweden, join us on Facebook and Twitter.

AFP/The Local (news@thelocal.se)

Facebook Twitter Google+ reddit

Today's headlines
Sweden cuts 2016 refugee forecast by thousands
A Swedish migration authority office in Stockholm. Photo: Maja Suslin/TT

The country has also slashed its prediction for 2017.

Swedish researchers plan new trucks for women drivers
File photo of trucks in Sweden. Photo: Thomas Johansson/TT

Could vehicles adapted for women attract more female truckers to the profession?

These stats show Swedish driving isn't so gender equal
File photo of a Swedish woman driving a car. Photo: Pontus Lundahl/TT

A new survey shows that few Swedish women get behind the wheel when driving with their male partner.

Revealed: Game of Thrones could be coming to Sweden
Game of Thrones cast members at the Emmy Awards in September. Photo: Jordan Strauss/AP

The producers of the hit show have asked for three rounds of location pictures of Swedish island Gotland.

Prime Minister to meet Swedish troops in Iraq
Swedish Prime Minister Stefan Löfven and his Kurdish counterpart Nechervan Barzani. Photo: Henrik Montgomery/TT

Sweden's Prime Minister Löfven is set to meet Swedish troops in Iraq on Tuesday.

Swedish politicians wage war on winter time
Soon it will look like this on your way home from work in Sweden. Photo: Anders Wiklund/TT

Should Sweden stick with summer time all year round?

'Don't turn the Pope into a global teddy bear'
Sweden's Queen Silvia and Princess Leonore visiting Pope Francis in the Vatican last year. Photo: Henrik Montgomery/TT

It's time to hold the Pope to account and make sure he turns his words about reform into action, argues a minister of the Swedish Church ahead of Pope Francis' visit to Sweden.

Löfven: 'Sweden will double its number of troops in Iraq'
Stefan Löfven and Haider al-Abadi during the visit on Monday. Photo: Henrik Montgomery/TT

Swedish Prime Minister Stefan Löfven has promised to double his country's number of troops in Iraq following a meeting with Iraqi counterpart Haider al-Abadi on Monday.

Will Swedes soon be looking for fairtrade porn?
Should Swedes think fairtrade with porn? Photo: Karin Malmhav/SvD/TT

A fairtrade attitude to pornography would be beneficial, Sweden's health minister told The Local.

Presented by Stockholm University
Nordic fashion in focus at Stockholm University
Simon Paulin/imagebank.sweden.se

Nordic fashion took centre stage in the Swedish capital last week as Stockholm University hosted the “first-ever” academic conference looking at luxury and sustainability in the fashion industry.

Sponsored Article
Last chance to vote absentee in the US elections
The Local Voices
'I simply don’t believe in nationality'
Sponsored Article
This is Malmö: Football capital of Sweden
Why we're convinced Game of Thrones is based on Sweden
People-watching: October 21st-23rd
Blog updates

6 October

10 useful hjälpverb (The Swedish Teacher) »

"Hej! I think the so-called “hjalpverb” (auxiliary verbs in English) are a good way to get…" READ »


8 July

Editor’s blog, July 8th (The Local Sweden) »

"Hej readers, It has, as always, been a bizarre, serious and hilarious week in Sweden. You…" READ »

Sponsored Article
Where is the Swedish music industry heading?
Fury at plans that 'threaten the IB's survival' in Sweden
Sponsored Article
Why you should 'grab a chair' on Stockholm's tech scene
Analysis & Opinion
Are we just going to let half the country die?
Angry elk chases Swede up a lamp post
The Local Voices
'Alienation in Sweden feels better: I find myself a stranger among scores of aliens'
Sponsored Article
Stockholm: creating solutions to global challenges
People-watching: October 20th
Sponsored Article
Swedish for programmers: 'It changed my life'
The Local Voices
A layover at Qatar airport brought this Swedish-Kenyan couple together - now they're heading for marriage
Swede punches clown that scared his grandmother
Sponsored Article
Top 7 tips to help you learn Swedish
Fans throw flares and enter pitch in Swedish football riot
Sponsored Article
‘Extremism can't be defeated on the battlefield alone’
Could Swedish blood test solve 'Making a Murderer'?
Property of the week: Linnéstaden, Gothenburg
Sponsored Article
Stockholm: creating solutions to global challenges
Swedish school to build gender neutral changing room
Sponsored Article
Why you should 'grab a chair' on Stockholm's tech scene
People-watching: October 14th-16th
Sponsored Article
Where is the Swedish music industry heading?
Man in Sweden assaulted by clowns with broken bottle
Sponsored Article
One expat's strategy for making friends in Stockholm
Nobel Prize 2016: Literature
Sponsored Article
Nordic fashion in focus at Stockholm University
Watch the man who discovered Bob Dylan react to his Nobel Prize win
Record numbers emigrating from Sweden
People-watching: October 12th
The Local Voices
'Swedish startups should embrace newcomers' talents - there's nothing to fear'
How far right are the Sweden Democrats?
Property of the week: Triangeln, Malmö
Sweden unveils Europe's first elk hut
People-watching: October 7th-9th
The Local Voices
Syria's White Helmets: The Nobel Peace Prize would have meant a lot, but pulling a child from rubble is the greatest reward
Missing rune stone turns up in Sweden
jobs available