Fika (culture)

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"Fika" outside during Swedish spring.

Fika (Swedish pronunciation: [ˈfiːˌka]) is a concept in Swedish culture with the basic meaning "to have coffee", often accompanied with pastries or sandwiches.[1] A more contemporary generalised meaning of the word, where the coffee may be replaced by tea or even juice, lemonade or squash for children, has become widespread. In some social circles, even just a sandwich or a small meal may be denoted a fika similar to the English concept of afternoon tea. In Sweden pastries in general (for example cinnamon buns) are often referred to as fikabröd ("fika bread").


Fika is considered a social institution in Sweden; it means having a break, most often a coffee break, with one's colleagues, friends, date or family. The word fika is both a verb and a noun. You can fika at work by taking a "coffee break", fika with someone like a "coffee date", or just drink a cup of coffee. As such, the word has quite ambiguous connotations, but almost always includes something to eat, such as biscuits, cakes and even sweets, accompanied with the drink. This practice of taking a break, typically with a cinnamon roll or some biscuits or cookies, or sometimes a smörgås or a fruit on the side, is central to Swedish life, and is regularly enjoyed even by government employees.[2]

Although the word may in itself imply "taking a break from work", this is often emphasized using the word fikapaus ("fika pause") or fikarast ("fika break"), with kaffepaus and kafferast, respectively, as near synonyms. Fika may also mean having coffee or other beverages at a café or konditori (a "patisserie-based coffeehouse").[3] Fika performs an important social function as the "non-date date", i.e. while going on a date can be perceived as a big deal, ta en fika ("Take a fika") is a very low-pressure and informal situation, and doesn't in itself imply any romantic context. People of opposite genders meeting for a fika doesn't raise any eyebrows or particular suspicions that they are to become "an item."

Traditionally, fika requires sweet, baked goods, especially cinnamon rolls.[4] According to Helene Henderson, author of The Swedish Table, one needs three items minimum to avoid insult to Swedish guests; "to impress, serve a variety of seven freshly baked items—and be ready to talk about the weather."[1]

Fika is also combined in words such as fikabröd ("fika bread") which is a collective name for all kinds of biscuits, cookies, buns, etc. that are traditionally eaten with coffee. Non-sweetened breads are normally not included in this term (even though these may sometimes be consumed with coffee). Fika is also used as a noun, referring to fikabröd and coffee combined. Baked goods associated with fika are sometimes referred to as dopp ("dip; dunk"), implying that the foodstuff should be dunked in coffee.

The word "fika" is an example of the back slang used in the 19th century, in which syllables of a word were reversed, deriving fika from kaffi, an earlier variant of the Swedish word kaffe ("coffee").[5] From fika also comes the word fik (a colloquial term for "café") through a process of back-formation.[6] While the term is mostly used as a synonym for "coffee break" (or "tea break", "lemonade break", "cake break" or similar), the original use of the word - meaning just "coffee" - still lives on, especially in the older generations. The phrase "en kopp fika" for "a cup of coffee" is not as common as it used to be, but still prevails to some degree.[citation needed]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Henderson, Helene (2005). The Swedish Table. U of Minnesota P. p. xxiii-xxv. ISBN 978-0-8166-4513-8. 
  2. ^ Goldstein, Darra; Merkle, Kathrin (2005). Culinary cultures of Europe: identity, diversity and dialogue. Council of Europe. pp. 428–29. ISBN 978-92-871-5744-7. 
  3. ^ Johansson Robinowitz, Christina; Lisa Werner Carr (2001). Modern-day Vikings: a practical guide to interacting with the Swedes. Intercultural Press. p. 149. ISBN 978-1-877864-88-9. 
  4. ^ Davas, Kim (17 August 2005). "Swedish Food Deserves Another Look: Rev. of Helene Henderson, The Swedish Table". Eugene Register-Guard. p. E3. Retrieved 31 December 2009. 
  5. ^ Holm, Pelle (1939). Bevingade ord. ISBN 91-34-50877-5
  6. ^ "fik". Nationalencyklopedin (in Swedish). Retrieved 30 December 2010. 

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