Fika!

If you walk into any bakery or coffee shop in Sweden, you’ll find the locals performing a particularly foreign ritual to us Americans. It doesn’t involve a single phone or laptop, but instead centers a group of friends around genuine conversation. Fika, a time in which friends and family disconnect from world of the internet and instead gather around a table of pastries and coffee.

To my group of American friends, this concept is both challenging and appealing. Suggesting that a group of 20-somethings spend an hour or two without their phones is asking quite a bit, but if there’s cake involved, then it might not be so hard.

After a week in Sweden, my friends and I have grasped what fika is as well as the how, when, where, and why of the fika milieu. By now, we’ve even formed an alliance affectionately named “The Fika Chicas”. After class, we trek to Kaffestuga, which directly translates to “coffee cottage”, and fika to our hearts’ delight.

The local café is home to an enormous glass pastry case filled with the most inviting Swedish confections like the Semla, a classic Swedish pastry that resembles a cream puff topped with a mountain of glossy, white whipped cream. My particular favorite, Princess Cake, a green cake named after three Swedish princesses who were especially fond of the cake, sits in the case ready to be sliced. And most notable, the kanelbullar, really just a cinnamon roll, however, unlike the American cinnamon roll, the Swedish version has its own holiday on October 4th.  My friends and I have come up with a plan to consume as many desserts as possible-we split everything. Armed with a spoon in one hand and a steaming cup of tea in the other, we fika.

The funny thing about fika is that it is both a verb and a noun. Together we fika and together we have fika. Fika is a complete experience of the mind, body, and without being cheesy, the soul. Very rarely do I take the time to sit and truly take a moment to pause from everything. We live in a world that is dictated by the demands of our phones. Especially for my generation, there’s a feeling of needing to be a daily participant on social media. There is a collective fear that if we’re not online, then we don’t exist. So much of our sense of self-worth is based on a number of likes. Our existence is reduced to seeking validation in the number of followers we’ve acquired.

But fika is different. There is no pressure to perform. The only requirement is to be present, to put away one’s phone, and enjoy a carefully crafted confection. To me, a true Swedish fika is the absence of distractions like work, school, and social media. The Swedes fika during work and school. They see it as a necessary break in the day. In fact, it is believed that by incorporating fika, both workers and students become more productive as a result.

During fika with my friends, I like to pause for a moment and watch the people around me. I see neon-yellow safety vest clad men hunched over delicate little Semlor. There are families chatting away for hours over strong, black coffee. Then here I am, in the middle of the room with my distinctly loud fellow Americans. We too have our fika items, our tea and Princess Cake, also taking time out of our day to just be present. There is no pressure to perform as there is online.

A month later, we feel off if there isn’t a designated fika time. We used to joke about how often the Swedes fikaed, saying that their main export was excess calories. Now we see why fika exists.

In the United States, we live in a fast-paced world that expects more and more from each person every day, but what are the ramifications of these expectations? We cannot be productive if we don’t take time for ourselves. I feel that a concept like fika is especially important for my generation. It makes me think back to when my peers talk about self-care and the importance of mental health. What if our solution to many of the mental health issues college students face is a cup of coffee and a slice of cake? Of course, it’s not that simple, but Sweden has caught onto something that desperately needs to be adopted in America.

Every day we face pressure from our phones to be connected, but it’s the wrong type of connection. Perhaps, as we move forward, the self-care revolution will gain more speed, traditions like fika will catch on in the US, and we will understand the importance of taking time for ourselves.

As for me, I will take any opportunity I can to have another piece of cake.