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Intercultural Challenges
Meet locals and internationals
Stockholm University
59.362765, 18.059268
Topic FIKA

What is FIKA? This was the first question to cross my mind after arriving in Sweden. It comes as no surprise when you hear the word constantly repeated in public space and means of transport. New friends ask you out for FIKA, teacher in the middle of the lecture announces it’s time for FIKA, and even your boss can’t imagine to start working without having FIKA first. So, what’s the phenomenon? And with that thought in mind opening search engine.

cup of coffe

Results are as follow: word coffee appearing every few pages throughout Millennium trilogy, around 150 liters of coffee drunk yearly by average Swede (placing them at fourth position of coffee consumption in the world), at least 3 cups per day (and don’t think it’s a teacup … it’s definitely not… what is considered normal size is a mug you can see on the picture… with refill usually included in the price as if one mug wasn’t enough), king Gustav III’s coffee experiment and most importantly thousands of photos with stereotypically reserved Swedes socializing over the cup of coffee.

Coffee in Millennium saga

But can you trust Google? It turns out that in this case yes … at least from my experience. 7:00 am in metro – at least 3 people with coffee and a pack of sweets spotted, 10:00 am at university – after 45 minutes of lecture there is an obligatory break for having a FIKA (and you are actually expected to go out of classroom and grab yourself a coffee so as not to fall asleep during remaining 45 minutes of lecture); 12:00 am at workplace – boss shouting “it’s FIKA time”; 4:00 pm – coming back home so as to have FIKA again, 9:00 pm – meeting a Swede on some party in the evening: “Ok, let’s have a FIKA tomorrow morning”. And everything repeats once more becoming your daily routine.

No wonder that FIKA is commonly used word in Sweden, meaning (as you probably figured out so far) having coffee break. Etymology of the word is believed to be derived from 19th century slang in which words were reversed: KA-FFI became FI-KA. What is more important than word etymology is what the word stands for – the social phenomenon and daily routine that can be performed at any time during the day. At work, at home or in a café. It can be with family, friends, colleagues or someone you are getting to know. With filter coffee with milk (another Swedish phenomenon – milk is accompanying even dinner) as the most popular choice or nowadays even with tea or just a juice. What is crucial however are accompanying sweets. Cinnamon buns (called in Swedish kanelbullar), cakes and sandwiches are just a few examples of acceptable fika fares. And during carnival period the most popular one is definitely Semla – traditional Swedish pastry.


Consciously or not, I believe that most Swedes do participate in that routine. For me it was a social behavior definitely different from what I experience in my home country and certainly one requiring me to change my daily routine and habit, so as to not to be excluded and truly took part in students live.

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