There are four little letters that put together mean a great deal to the Swedes. It’s a noun, it’s a verb and it’s synonymous with friendship, companionship, sharing and nourishment. That’s right, we’re talking about fika. Want to join us?
Did you know that, according to the International Coffee Organization, the Swedes come in second in the world (after Finland) for the most coffee consumed per person? This, in my opinion, is directly correlated to the deliciously ingrained ritual that is fika; where friends, family and/or colleagues get together every day to share a cuppa and something sweet (generally termed fikabröd).
In fact, research indicates that taking a short pause from work makes employees more productive. Not only this, but in Sweden, where fika often a mandatory break in any company, a great many executive discussions take place over a steaming pot of bryggkaffe.
“At my husband’s work, a lot of major decisions are made over fika.” Canadian expat, Katie, explains to YLC.
And one can see why; workers feel more relaxed, less pressured and oftentimes more creative in an informal setting, surrounded by caffeinated beverages and yummy buns. It’s almost as if fika is the Swedish equivalent of the water cooler. Except it has more of a ritual aspect to it. It’s a soul-enriching timeout from the hustle and bustle, where a small chunk of the day is set aside for some quality bonding time; making this tradition equally warming for the heart and stomach.
But for expats wandering into a cafe alone at 15:00, it can often be a time where we are reminded that we are not natives. The fact that we may not have someone to share fika with can make us feel even more alienated from the Swedish tribesmen. Let’s face it, if anyone needs to bond over a zillion cups of stomach-cramp-inducingly strong coffee, it’s us.
The feeling of belonging is right up there on Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs; this need is all the more piquant when you’ve relocated to a different country (or continent). We need to feel connected to others through the sharing of experiences, exchanging of ideas and offering (and receiving) of advice.
Sometimes we just want to lament that the Systembolaget makes you feel like you’re in a prison commissary and that smoked moose meat and lettuce slapped onto a bun does not a breakfast make.
And sometimes, just sometimes, we just want to speak English without feeling guilty for not speaking Swedish. That’s where Nina Mumm comes in.
Nina is a highly trained Swedish language teacher who hosts an informal weekly English-speaking coffee morning from 9:00 – 11:00 every Monday morning. Although she is a native, she’s had her fair share of the expat experience, having herself lived and worked in Switzerland, Canada and Norway. She is therefore perfectly positioned to dish out advice on how to balance work with family life while living in a foreign country as well as offer an inside view onto the Swedish way of life.
There is usually a small group of around six expats at the Monday morning fika, but it’s a relatively new venture and it’s been growing steadily in popularity. How Nina has accumulated such a consistently lovely and helpful group of people is beyond me, but when I attended I felt like I had just been hugged by Santa Claus. Of course, we all nattered about living in Sweden and the trials, tribulations and frustrations that go hand-in-hand with being an expat, but the mood was unequivocally positive. All of us were of different ages and backgrounds, yet we all found commonality in our present experience. We were also all similar in that instead of sitting alone on our couches watching the sun set at 4pm, we were actively out seeking companionship… and coffee.
So if you’re looking to meet some genuinely good people to share your expatriate emotions (and perhaps your kanelbulle) with, I strongly urge you to pop in to Vete-Katten and join Nina and the crew. I can’t think of a better way to start a Monday morning, can you?
*If you want to join Nina and her group of drop-dead lovely expats, pop into Vete-Katten, Kungsgatan 55, on a Monday morning between 9am and 11am. It’s free (except if you want some coffee/tea or nibbles) and there’s no invitation needed! Anyone can join in and there are absolutely no obligations to attend every week.
Kirsten blindly followed her husband from South Africa to the land of snow and snus in 2011 and proceeded to procreate. When she isn’t discovering the 101st use of the humble wet wipe, she can be found writing adjective-laden articles for YLC.