Is fika a dying phenomenon?
A recent article in Business Insider suggests that fika is not what the international hype is suggesting. In fact, Swedes themselves tell of fika as a dying concept, something they do with their grandmother once a year.
Is this true?
Well, as for most questions, the answer is yes, and, no.
It is true that anyone coming to Sweden will probably not be asked out for a coffee. We would be too busy trying to impress you with how civilised/continental/americanised our lifestyle is. Sipping coffee on the go, trying spicy food, celebrating new forms of serving snacks, this is all about telling ourselves and others we are not a tiny nation in the forest that means nothing in a global perspective. We really want to be like you guys. You are, per definition, cool, we are trying really hard.
That is why things get so confusing when our own culture is suddenly the cool one. It just can’t be true.
One of the most integral aspects of culture is that it is in constant flux and that it is partly subconscious. As soon as we pronounce a phenomenon, it tends to become an image of itself. If we ask Swedes about fika the way it is portrayed in (international) media, it has become stereotyped, almost contrived. This ceremonial practice of having for fika for the sake of having fika rarely occurs for Swedes who have things to get done.
But. It does exist. It is nuanced. It is real and always compromised by circumstances.
Unfortunately, as an american journalist, you are unlikely to find yourself in a situation where you get to experience a true fika. It is too subtle for that. Fika is rarely an event in itself. It is a break from something, a prolongation of something else, an excuse for something else.
At work, there will be fika breaks, often one in the morning and one in the afternoon. You are supposed to participate, regardless if you take coffee, tea, water, fruit, or even nothing. It is a way of connecting to your colleagues and chat informally.
If we go to the beach (and for my international readers, yes, Sweden has some amazing beaches, and the weather is definitely good enough at some moments), we definitely bring fika. Or a walk in the forest, a road trip. My French husband does not understand this. A thermos with coffee, pastries maybe, but if not, sandwiches – these are essentials. There needs to be a moment where we sit down, consume caffeine and carbs, and take in the scenery.
If you end up visiting someone spontaneously in their house, there will be fika. Definitely. Or for a birthday party, it is not uncommon to arrange an afternoon cake feast instead of dinner. When someone is about to leave the workplace for a new job, colleagues will sit down for a goodbye fika.
When your kids are sleeping and you can breathe, there is fika. A reason to sit down, to recover.
It is the moment after a class, a film, a work task, when you are not ready to part but feel there is a need to prolong the moment.
Fika is not dead. The hype will die soon, though.