Swedish "fika"

Definition of “fika” from Wikipedia (english version)

“Fika is a social institution in Sweden; it means having a break, most often a coffee break, with one’s colleagues, friends, date, or family. The word “fika” can serve as both a verb and a noun. Swedes consider having a coffee an important part of the culture. You can fika at work by taking a “coffee break,” fika with someone like a “coffee date,” or just drink a cup of coffee. As such, the word has quite ambiguous connotations, but almost always including something to eat, such as cookies, cakes and even candy, accompanied by a drink. This practice of taking a break, typically with a cinnamon roll or some biscuits or cookies, or sometimes a smörgås or a fruit on the side, is central to Swedish life, and is regularly enjoyed even by the government.

Although the word may in itself imply “taking a break from work,” this is often emphasized using the word fikapaus (“fika pause”) or fikarast (“fika break”), with kaffepaus and kafferast, respectively, as near synonyms. Fika may also mean having coffee or other beverages at a café or konditori (a “patisserie-based coffeehouse”).

Fika performs an important social function as the “non-date date”, i.e. while going on a date can be perceived as a big deal, ta en fika (“Take a fika”) is a very low-pressure and informal situation, and doesn’t in itself imply any romantic context. People of opposite/appropriate genders meeting for a fika doesn’t raise any eyebrows or particular suspicions they are to become an item.

Traditionally, fika requires sweet, baked goods, especially cinnamon rolls. According to Helene Henderson, author of The Swedish Table, one needs three items minimum to avoid insult to Swedish guests; “to impress, serve a variety of seven freshly baked items–and be ready to talk about the weather.”

Fika is also combined in words such as fikabröd (“fika bread”) which is a collective name for all kinds of biscuits, cookies, buns, etc. that are traditionally eaten with coffee. Non-sweetened breads are normally not included in this term (even though these may sometimes be consumed with coffee). Fika is also used as a noun, referring to fikabröd and coffee combined.

The word is an example of the back slang used in the 19th century, in which syllables of a word were reversed, deriving fika from kaffi, an earlier variant of the Swedish word kaffe (“coffee”). From fika also comes the word fik (a colloquial term for “café”) through a process of back-formation.

While the term is nowadays mostly used as a synonym for “coffee break” (or “tea break”, “lemonade break”, “cake break” or similar), the original use of the word – meaning just “coffee” – still lives on, especially in the elder generations. The phrase “en kopp fika” for “a cup of coffee” is not as common as it used to be, but still prevails to some degree.”

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