The University of Iowa

A Swedish Fika!

June 19th, 2014

By Kelsey Frisk*

When I first stepped off the plane in Sweden I was told two very important things. First, that I would need a warmer coat. Second, that we were going to have a Fika. Due to my Scandinavian heritage, I had learned about the Swedish social institution of having a daily Fika (or many), but I highly underestimated how important this phenomenon would be to my daily routine.

girl sitting on fountain in square

A Fika is often defined as a break shared with family, friends, or coworkers, and usually consists of coffee and a baked sweet. Although coffee and a sweet roll is the traditional choice, you can have an smörgås (small open-faced sandwich), ice cream, or any food of your liking. Even more versatile than the food choice is the setting of a Fika. People enjoy this break at work, home, cafes, and even outdoors during a brisk or leisurely hike.  

My love for Fika started early. In the winter, when the sun set at four in the afternoon and I would run from building to building to stay warm, having a Fika was the best way to warm up, practice some Swedish, and enjoy time with friends. Now that it’s summer, I enjoy most of my Fikas outside. After having only a few hours of daylight during the winter, I, along with almost every other Swede, love to enjoy the sun’s bright rays warm my whole body.

coffee tea fika
A traditional Fika with Semla and coffee in the Viking town of Sigtuna, Sweden. We were served in the old fashioned way: a semla bun in a bowl of warm, sweet milk. Traditionally, this bun is served on Tuesday’s during lent, but now it can be seen in most cafes from November until April.

With the harsh Scandinavian winters and beautiful summers, I can understand why Swedes love their Fika. It also gives good insight into an important cultural value in Sweden: Lagom (a word that can’t be directly translated but generally means: not too much, not too little, just enough.) People appreciate and make a point to balance work and break time in order to have and maintain a good quality of life. Whether you are in the heart of Stockholm or in a fishing village on the high coast of Sweden, people love to stop, eat, and enjoy each other’s company.

students eating outside

Having a Fika in the sun, taking a break during one of my three-hour lectures.

After a few months in my temporary home, I’ve had my fair share of Fika. I’ve been to all the hip cafes in town, and even enjoyed Fika as part of many long university lectures and seminars. My favorite sweet would have to be a Semla, a cardamom rye bun with an almond paste and lightly whipped, cream filling. Although I will greatly miss my daily ritual of Fika, I hope I can bring back the meaning and values behind having a Fika: a good balance in life, or otherwise stated, Lagom.

cafe in Sweden

My favorite café in Gamla Stan, Stockholm. The proceeds go towards Stockholm Stadsmission, which is the city’s homeless shelter.

*Kelsey Frisk, of Magnolia, Iowa, is a University of Iowa junior majoring in interdepartmental studies with an emphasis in global health science. She is currently conducting research in Sweden courtesy of a Stanley Undergraduate Award. Kelsey also recently completed a semester of study in spring 2014 though the CIEE program at Uppsala University in Sweden