Apparently, I have been doing fika for a long time, without realizing it. So, what is fika (pronounced fee-ka)? It’s the Swedish word for a leisurely coffee break with friends and family, ideally accompanied by something sweet to eat .
Last night, I was watching a Swedish movie called Så som i himmelen, about a famous conductor who has a heart attack because of his over-worked, stressful, globe-trotting, booked-seven-years-in-advance lifestyle, and then, on a whim, decides to go back to the quiet village of his childhood. Reluctantly, he agrees to lead the local church choir and starts teaching them a thing or two about becoming better singers. The choir is a motley group of interesting characters who don’t always get along with one another. But one thing they all always seem to agree on is fika. As soon as anyone mentions it, off come out the tables, and table cloths and coffee pots and baked goodies!
In one of the early scenes, when Daniel, the conductor, has just begun interacting with the choir, he loses his patience because he feels that everyone is very punctual about taking coffee breaks but not as focused on learning music. Exasperated, he screams, “Without concentration, nothing can emerge, nothing!” And one of the singers replies, “But Daniel, coffee’s important too!” And I think that really summarizes the spirit of fika or the culture of afternoon tea, or even a siesta. Some people might think that spending half an hour taking a coffee break in the middle of a work day is a waste of time, but I disagree. In fact, I recommend that one should fika every couple of hours! Not only is it fun to chit-chat with your friends and colleagues, it also refreshes your mind and makes you more productive in-between fikas.
I do feel a bit of this attitude has a cultural aspect to it. Having grown up in India where daily life revolves around chai breaks, I completely GET fika. And it is undoubtedly, one of the most fun parts of my day at work! If you don’t fika regularly, start pronto!
Now, on an unrelated note, while spending so much time thinking about the word fika, I couldn’t help but notice that it is ka-fi in reverse, which (hello!) sounds like coffee. I wasn’t sure if there was a real connection between the two, but it seemed quite likely. And as I read more of this Wikipedia article, I learnt that my hunch was correct and that there is something called a back slang, which is what fika is! Back slangs originated in England when butchers started creating codes for certain words by speaking the written word phonemically backwards. These back slangs were very useful, for example, when the head butcher wanted his assistant to bring out an old cut of meat without letting the customer know. How cool is that! (Here’s a list of some other back slangs.)
This post is dedicated to all my past and present fika partners!