Keeping Connected When Apart: The Practice of Fika

We can all use a little break during the day. It helps to step away from your computer, get out of your seat, and find some fresh air. But unless we try to completely detach from the work at hand and stresses of the world, not just physically but mentally and emotionally as well, then the time spent on a break isn’t being used to its fullest.

From some of the happiest people on earth, and the region that brought us saunas and hygge, comes another healthy cultural cornerstone we all should adopt: fika, the coffee break. It’s needed now more than ever.

Fika is a Swedish term, idea, and pastime. To translate it literally would be to lose its meaning. The fika coffee break isn’t really about coffee, and it’s not really about taking a break from something you’re doing. Instead, it’s a concerted effort to focus and embrace people — and some sweet delights.

Primarily a social endeavour, fika finds people taking time to acquaint — or reacquaint — alongside a beverage of sorts and often a tasty treat. Coffee is the most popular as it can refresh the mind and invigorate the body, but other drinks that enliven the spirit are worthy as well, like teas and smoothies and wine. Cheers! As far as snacks are concerned, cinnamon buns, tarts, muffins, and even some sandwiches are the choice fare to enjoy. They may be sweet or savoury, but either way, they are delicious pieces of comfort and should be fresh and preferably homemade (well, made in someone’s home, if not yours).

While often taking place during the day, fika can be something to indulge in during the early hours of the morning or later into the evening and night. Fika can be lively, but there should be a focus on natural stimuli, warmth, and relaxation. It’s a positive environment and a safe space. You don’t do fika on the go; you stop and slow everything down.

Most importantly, fika is time spent to engage with those around you. It’s a time to put away work (and screens, preferably) to chat and listen with colleagues, friends, and family. Put away electronics and turn off excess noise when you’re socializing. The benefits are plentiful and manifold. For the individual, this helps to foster and maintain connections and relationships, which are especially important during low or isolated times. Our connections to each other are reinforced, thereby improving our feeling of self-worth, inspiration, and our outlook on life.

In turn, communities are strengthened. We feel a part of something greater not just by reinforcing old friendships and forging new ones, but in knowing that many hundreds and thousands of people are partaking in a similar endeavour throughout the day, and even at the same time. We all become a part of something bigger than us.

Companies endorse fika too, because similarly, it establishes a sense of community among colleagues. By giving people a break to focus on important relationships and social outreach, you lessen frustration, aggression, and stress, and promote healthy and honest discussions. Often, fika is taken once in the morning and again later in the afternoon during the workday. Naturally, a part of fika can be networking. Taking regular breaks means you’re better equipped and focused when returning to work. Plowing right through to the end of the task or day depreciates your work ethic.

The Swedes know the value and importance of fika — even the bosses. Unlike many western companies, Swedes see those who toil away and steam ahead in work as being less productive than those who know how to take a break. Swedish companies don’t just encourage fika, they practically mandate it; working during such a break is frowned upon. There is no work more important than social, emotional, and mental health.

While fika during the workday may be 10 to 30 minutes, fika away from the office can be up to several hours — good coffee, snacks, and conversation can see that time fly by. It’s an important part of life, but it’s also informal. There is no dress code, time frame, or specific food and drink order. While fika is mostly done at coffee shops or restaurants, it can also take place in parks or other outdoor settings, or even your home if you’ve enough space and feel comfortable. After all, fika can be done with strangers, too.

Curiously, governments over the centuries in Sweden imposed bans on coffee, and during one such prohibition, a slag term, kaffi, was coined. Switch around the two syllables and drop the superfluous ‘f,’ and you get fika.

Especially during stressful, uncertain times, our connections are vital. And when you can’t always physically be in the same space as someone with whom you want to engage, technology can be employed; just make sure you balance it out later in the day. Use your phone or laptop to find some much needed contact with friends and family around the globe. You can still actively listen, pose questions, ponder the future, and replenish your mental, emotional, and spiritual energy. Screens aren’t necessarily good or bad; they’re tools that can be used in ways either helpful or harmful. And when you can’t get to someone, it’s worthwhile to find them online. Talk one on one or connect with a group. You can all even enjoy a fresh snack and beverage of choice.

So take time during your day to connect with someone. Look into someone eye’s when they speak, listen to what they have to say, and in turn, share your thoughts, ideas, opinions, and curiosities. Even if you’re alone, enjoy a fresh drink, a sweet reward, and slow everything down around you for a little while. The world will still be there when you regain your momentum.

Don’t think of it as an escape, either. It’s a deserved, almost required respite. Think of it as a special, essential part of your day. You’re never too busy for fika.




Anthony Marcusa
Anthony Marcusa is a Toronto-based freelance journalist whose writing dabbles in film, TV, music, sports, and relationships – though not necessarily in that order. He’s simultaneously youthfully idealistic and curmudgeonly cynical. But he’s always curious.