Monday, May 23, 2011

Hej Då, Sverige: Pt. 3

Hej Då, Sverige, Pt. 3: Fika

Fika is something that I've wanted to blog about for quite some time now, but it's such an integral part of life here that it always felt silly to reiterate it here. It's something that can only be described as quintessentially Swedish. It is a tradition that I'm positive will be part of my stock answer when I return home and people ask me how my trip was:

"It was great! Really cold and dark, but you know, still good. Had a lotttt of fika. Oh, what's fika? LET ME TELL YOU."

Conversation starters are swell. But seriously, let me tell you indeed!

Fika is the Swedish custom of having an afternoon coffee and pastry with friends, coworkers, family, etc. Yes, people drink coffee everywhere, but nowhere is this tradition more institutionalized than Sweden. It is so deeply ingrained in Swedish culture that work contracts often include fika breaks. Your boss will actually shoo you out of your cubicle if you haven't taken your afternoon fika. Between 1-4 PM, the myriad cafes in Gothenburg (seriously, you could probably go to a different cafe every day for a year and still not have hit them all) are bustling with fika-ers, all taking a breather from the day with caffeine and a sweet.

While it's a little disconcerting that Swedes are always in cafes and never, like, at work (seriously, do these people ever work? More on that later. Maybe.), I absolutely adore fika. I find it to be a great representation of life in Gothenburg: slow, friendly, and sometimes painfully cozy. For me, the best part about fika is the fact that it has its own verb in Swedish. I fika, you fika, he/she/it fikas, etc. I also love that it's so quotidian. Enjoying a hot cup of joe and a kanelbulle with a friend is no longer the exception, but the norm. You can see this way of thinking reflected in the cafes in Sweden. Almost no one ever gets their coffee to-go (or, as they'd call it here, "take away"), and it's assumed that you will be enjoying your beverage and snack in an oversized chair for at least an hour or so. Don't mind if I do. As a former barista, it's interesting to see the difference in coffee cultures. There's no rush here, no crowds, no lines out the door, no collective sense of impatience. Just very happy Swedes, and one very happy American.

When the money started running out and the temperature started dropping, we started having DIY fika. I'd brew a monster pot of coffee, everyone would bring little cakes and cookies, and we'd sit in my room for hours, watching the snow fall in November December January February March April I'm not making this up May and shoot the shit for and hour or two or four. Fika is a way of pressing the reset button for the day. While AU life is obviously a bit more hectic, I would love to start fika-ing back at home. Don't be surprised if you start getting "Fika?" texts. Since SIS kids start growling at you if you sit on the couch at the Dav for more than 10 minutes at a time (cool your jets and read your Foreign Affairs elsewhere, I was here first), maybe I'll start a little fika place of my own. First things on the business to-do list: steal a few of those rollie armchairs from the first floor of the library, find someone who knows how to use Photoshop to create an image of Pikachu holding a cup of coffee for when I inevitably name the place Fika-Chu, import some lingonberry syrup to make lingonberry chai lattes. Any investors?

How did people live meaningful lives before the internet? I mean, could you imagine being like "I wonder what a yellow, rat-inspired Pokemon holding a cup of coffee would look like?" and not being able to just Google Image search "pikachu coffee" and have these results pop up? Think of all the things you'd miss out on in life. It depresses me just thinking about it.

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