Looking at cultural differences between Sweden and the US, there are not many noticeable differences in everyday life. Going for a coffee break, especially with friends, is something people do in every culture. In the US, going to Starbucks or a cozy cafe in the afternoon for a little break is not uncommon. However, doing it every day, or even twice a day, is definitely uncommon in the US. This is not the case in Sweden though! Fika, which translates into a coffee and cake break, includes so much more than just food. It is a break during the day to socialize with friends or coworkers. In fact, just having a coffee and pastry by yourself does not count as Fika, because companionship is what makes Fika a real Fika.
It’s a Ritual
Fika can happen twice a day! Once in the late morning and later again in the middle of the afternoon. The practice of pausing your day to socialize is basically mandatory, and big companies in Sweden, such as Volvo, stop working for Fika! Fika can also happen by candlelight, which I have not experienced yet, but would love to! Drinking coffee and eating pastries with a group of friends around some candle sounds like a great bonding experience!
A Cinnamon Bun, But Better
While Fika includes all types of pastries, croissants, pies, and cakes, the most common Fika pastries are cinnamon or cardamom buns. Called kanelbulle in Swedish, these buns are on a whole different level than American cinnamon buns. It is twisted into a fun shape, and baked to perfect mix of crispy on the outside and soft in the middle, with sugar chunks sprinkled on top! The cardamom buns are very similar, but since it’s made from a spice, it is more savory in comparison to the sweetness of cinnamon buns. I don’t think I can go back to American cinnamon buns after eating the Swedish buns!
Baking: It’s Art
Cafes and bakeries can be found all over Stockholm, and it is very hard to resist the colorful displays filled with goodies! After passing by so many in the city, I have learned to appreciate the skill and cleverness that goes into baking. In the US, we still have amazing pastries, yet the ingenuity of Swedish pastries is something that I really appreciate!
A Way to Make Friends
One of the first things my core class did together was get Fika. Also, when meeting my visiting host family for the first time, we went to a floating cafe on the river to get Fika. In Sweden, Fika is the first step when meeting someone new. Even in everyday life, Fika plays a big role in continuing close friendships and social connections. I think it is so interesting that an entire country observes this practice religiously, because it shows the importance the Swedish people put on companionship. I love the idea of taking time out of your day to focus on connecting with others, especially over amazing desserts and coffee. In the US, getting coffee with friends to catch up is usually an every-once-in-a-while kind of activity. I think having a practice like Fika in the US would be a great way to make people slow down their work or school day and feel refreshed to finish their day strong.
Fun Fact: Sweden is ranked country #6 in the list of biggest coffee consumers!