Fika

tosse bageriet

coffee break

Fika [fee-kah] is a concept in Swedish culture with the basic meaning ‘to have coffee,’ often accompanied with pastries or sandwiches. A more contemporary generalized 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 a common practice at workplaces in Sweden where it constitutes at least one break during a normal workday. Often, two fikas are taken in a day at around 9:00 in the morning and 3:00 in the afternoon. The work fika is an important social event where employees can gather and socialize to discuss private and professional matters. It is not uncommon for management to join employees and to some extent it can even be considered impolite not to join one’s colleagues at fika. The practice is not limited to any specific sector of the labor market and is considered normal practice even in government administration.

The word ‘fika’ is an example of ‘back slang’ used in the 19th century, in which syllables of a word were reversed, deriving from ‘kaffi,’ an earlier variant of the Swedish word ‘kaffe’ (‘coffee’). From fika also comes the word ‘fik’ (a colloquial term for ‘café’) through a process of back-formation. Fika is considered a social institution in Sweden; it means having a break, most often a coffee break, with one’s colleagues, friends, a date, or family. The word can be used as both verb and a noun — it is both the taking of a coffee and pastry break, and a colloquialism for the foods eaten.

You can ‘fika’ at work by taking a ‘coffee break,’ ‘fika’ with someone like a ‘coffee date,’ or just drink a cup of coffee, tea or other non-alcoholic beverage. 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, often with a cinnamon roll or some biscuits, cookies, or a fruit on the side, is central to Swedish life. 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’).

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