What does “fika” mean, precisely?

My favorite konditori

You’re going to be hearing this word a lot now that Gevalia is introducing its coffee into American supermarkets.

Since I spend many months each year traveling to and from Europe, Sweden in particular, I thought it would be a good idea to better understand the concept of fika.

As an American, my interpretation lacks authenticity, so I’m interpreting from what I’ve been told by Swedish people—who, being Swedish and all, have great authenticity about things from Sweden.

The best coffee in the world, and it comes from Sweden!

Most definitions of ‘fika’ seem to come from those who are not actually Swedish, and are, therefore, wrong.

I have asked authentic Swedish people, and here is what they say:

To fika is to get together with other people (you cannot, by definition, fika alone) and enjoy coffee and cakes and companionship in a light-hearted manner. It is a misunderstanding of the concept of fika-ing to think that this activity can, or should be, constrained to one time of day. It is not the Swedish version of “elevenses” or High Tea, nor does it absolutely require cakes (though from what I’ve seen, conversation is enhanced by the creamy sweetness of fresh semla or kanelbullar).

Kanel (cinnamon) bullar (buns). Very popular for fika; needless to say, I can’t eat them.

Swedes seemingly fika pretty much all day long, at any time of day, but the keys to fika-ing properly are that you must do it with the intention of chatting, either at home or in a konditori (coffeeshop/bakery); and you must not spend a lot of time at it in any one go.

In other words, it’s a formalized coffee break that, from what I’ve seen, Swedes (lovely people who I secretly resent for being able to eat vast quantities of pastries and not get fat) engage in at least four times a day.

They will fika with whoever comes through the door, if they want to sit and talk to that person. They will fika with you even if they just fikaed with their cousin, three times removed, a half hour ago.

Just when you begin to think all they do is fika, the clock indicates that the hours for fika (7 a.m. to approximately 5 p.m.) are over, and now it’s time to think seriously about real food.

9 thoughts on “What does “fika” mean, precisely?

  1. Ha ha ha! As a Swede I must say that you got it pretty right. We have a coffee or tea, and some sweet great, cakes or something like that, and then we CHAT. The main purpose is to communicate. But I cannot say that we do it THAT often. Haha.. I´m doing it less than once a month.
    You have an interesting blog and I believe it will be fun to follow it.

    1. Tack så mycket! I have a secret theory that all Americans actually want to be Swedish, they just don’t know it yet. But the more time I spend in Sweden, the more convinced of it I become. When I come back this time, I plan to make my hosts chocolate chip cookies, because Sweden needs more sweets. 🙂 Thanks for reading, and I hope we can meet at some point, since I will be coming to Gothenburg!

      1. Alison,
        By the way I forgot to give you an answer. So sorry. You asked about if there is an opportunity to meet and talk writing with my writing friends. I spoke to them, and we decided to split the group because of different reasons (life in my way again). So for the moment there is no group at all. Maybe some other time?

      1. 🙂

        in brazil it means ‘stay’ – one time i had to leave a group of brazilians in a restaurant to go catch a bus and they chanted it very loud to me. it was touching but a bit weird… 😉

      2. One of those odd moments in life when you have to hope the people involved aren’t deeply insulting you. En masse.

        Thanks for reading… In Sweden, they say ‘tack så mycket,’ which means thank you very much and does not contain an insult in either Italian or Spanish, as far as I know. 😉

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