It’s common in American culture to rejuvenate oneself with multiple cups of coffee throughout a long work day. This type of “coffee break” usually entails a trip to the Keurig machine, a press of a button and instant coffee within minutes. However, when you’re constantly bombarded with an unforgiving list of deadlines, the most break you could really afford is a trip back to your cubicle with a to-go cup in your hand.
Work in Sweden and they will tell you’re doing it wrong. For many companies there, it is mandatory for employees to designate at least 30 minutes for coffee breaks in the morning and afternoon. In fact, coffee breaks are so important, they are sometimes even included as a part of employee contracts. If you mention work-related topics to your co-workers during your time off, they will give you a strange look. This type of coffee break is called fika (‘fee-ka’) and it is a social occasion that expands beyond the office setting.
Fika can be taken alone or with company, indoors or outdoors, during the weekdays or on weekends. Fika can serve as both a noun (being invited to a fika) and a verb (to fika with a colleague). The purpose of a fika is to slow down, detach oneself from the demands of daily life and savor the moment.
Americans often go to cafes with their laptops to get work done without feeling disturbed. The Swedes, however, use the space to have genuine conversations with other people. Old friends use fika to catch up while acquaintances use them to get to know each other better. Fika also allows one to have a casual meet up with a person of interest without the pressure of being on a date.
When we talk about coffee, we often see it as a beverage that offers an instant boost of energy, followed by sluggishness when its effect wears off. The Swedes, on the other hand, believe the real way to recharge, is to simply pause from their busy schedules. Fika’s effectiveness? Sweden has been found to be one of the most productive and least stressful countries in the world!
While fika comes from the Swedish word for coffee (kaffe), coffee is totally optional when taking a coffee break. Some people would replace it with a cup of tea and complement with baked goods, fruits or open-faced sandwiches.