What does “fika” mean, precisely?

My favorite konditori in Sweden, Askylyckan

You’re hearing this word a lot now that Gevalia is selling its coffee in American supermarkets. (I used to buy it through their website, and before that, it came in the snailmail).

This now includes TV ads with some California actor who looks alarmingly foppish in his poetic velvet jacket and Dutch-boy haircut. Suffice it say, no man in Sweden looks like this, thank God. 

gevalia imageSince 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 (easy to pronounce: fee-ka).

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.

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).

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.

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