Straight-up Scandinavia: Fika, the quintessential Swedish word

Any trip to Sweden, be it for business, personal reasons or just because you want to stay in the Ice Hotel, is going to necessitate knowing the word fika.

In a grammatical sense it is a verb meaning “to take a coffee break.” But fika is so much more than a word; it is a Swedish way of life. Swedes love their coffee breaks (and I am not stereotyping). Fikas are happy afternoon gatherings between friends, study breaks for university students, and beyond that, absolutely necessary in the workplace. I dare you to try and find a Swedish company that doesn’t encourage a mid-morning fika for its employees; it is practically written into the contracts, although sometimes that fika time can turn into a casual business meeting.

The word can be used as a verb or a noun. Ska vi fika? (Should we take a coffee break?) or vilken trevlig fika! (what a nice coffee break). Originally the word was really only used for coffee, but nowadays there is often an implied consumption of an accompanying pastry, bun or small sandwich. And fika isn’t just about what beverage and food items are consumed, it is also about the social gathering that takes place. This is a time when Swedes gather and relax in a casual setting. A fika is therefore great option, and very standard, for a first Swedish date. Or for catching up on office gossip.

Fika is such an integral part of Swedish culture that MSN Sweden recently ran an article called Fika dig friskare (Fika yourself healthy) about the benefits of getting together with friends and being in a relaxing and enjoyable place like a cafe, or an outdoor terrace in the summer sun. But, as the article clearly noted, to really “fika yourself healthy,” the delicious Swedish baked goods that go along with the cup of coffee need to be switched out for a sandwich made with crisp bread. Not as glamorous as a kanelbulle (cinnamon roll) but tasty all the same.

If you happen to read Swedish and want to check out the article, you can do so here.