On my first day in Gothenburg, Sweden, my partner and I braved the rain and walked around town to try to get a sense of the community. Shops, trams and big open spaces were all found in ample quantities, as were coffee shops. At first I didn’t think much about it but as we saw more and more of them I began to wonder about the obvious Swedish obsession with coffee. It was a few days later that I learned the reason and was formally introduced to a beautiful tradition known as fika.
In the winter Sweden can be a cold, dark place and coffee has helped fill a need for social activity. At its base, fika is a coffee break. It’s taking time in the afternoon to join friends over a steaming hot beverage, have a snack of a cinnamon roll and just relax.
Before visiting Sweden, I had certain misconceptions and one of them was of a no-nonsense people. From the outside everything in Sweden always appears so well ordered and efficient that the idea of communal coffee breaks never occurred to me. Isn’t that usually reserved for more southerly countries? But I was thrilled not only to learn about the afternoon coffee break culture, but to join in on the fun as well.
I was on a walking tour in Malmo and was getting tired. Several days of action-packed touring had me in need of a break. My guide sensed my desire to refuel and suggested a fika at a local coffee shop we passed. It was mid-afternoon and the place was packed with other fika minded individuals. I ordered a coffee and slice of cake and sat outside with new friends to chat, laugh and to do not much more than recharge a bit. It’s this communal nature of the fika that I love the most; the ability to be social and just relax does a lot for one’s mood and outlook.
Swedish people reading this may laugh that I’ve put so much stock in what is just a coffee break, but it shows a lot about the culture I think. It shows where they place importance, that taking a mental break and being with friends is important and that is I think reflective of Swedish society as a whole. There is a certain attention to community that few other countries have mastered, but it’s a quality that makes traveling there an absolute joy.
What local traditions have you found traveling?