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EMBRACING FIKA

By Gabby Castle, 2023

It was my dad who first introduced me to the concept of fika which means taking time to enjoy coffee and cake (or a small sandwich) with friends. We had moved to Sweden in August of 2013 and over dinner my dad recounted an important meeting he’d been in, where halfway through his colleagues stood up and announced that it was time for fika. Being the new guy and thinking that they’d just walk to the café to pick up coffee to go, he was astonished when they all sat down to linger, despite having so much work to do. Fika at work, he explained, means taking the time to build connections, breakdown silos, and enhance collaboration. For many Swedish companies, fika is mandatory and built into their workdays. It’s unlike the American custom of grabbing a venti skinny mocha latte and taking it back to your desk (alone) as you pull a file off the top of the insurmountable stack and start working on the next challenge.

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Fika is vital to Swedish culture going all the way back to the early 1900’s. It is both a noun (the enjoyment of coffee) and a verb (to have fika), but for me it provides an important way to mindfully connect with friends without distractions. Fika creates a welcome space to engage with new ideas and connect with others. Vital to the fika tradition is kanelbullar, the beloved Swedish cinnamon bun. This delicious treat is made with a perfectly plush and ooey-gooey dough kneaded with a hint of cardamom – a spiral of heavenly goodness, if you will. It contains a buttery cinnamon sugar filling, is twisted in a knot and instead of a thick layer of icing, the top is sprinkled with pearl sugar. Kanelbullar is almost always offered as an accompaniment to coffee.

 

While living in Stockholm and whenever I get the chance to visit now, I have several favorite places to meet up with friends for fika. Snickerbachen 7 (more commonly referred to as The Garage) is tucked way back in an alley and was a quick walk from the school I attended. No matter what time of day, the lights are always low, real candles burn brightly on each table, fresh flowers in large vases adorn the communal tables, and the work of local artists grace the walls. Hushed conversations make the atmosphere feel so peaceful. Skroten Café, a favorite of fishermen and locals, is another beloved destination because of its location on the water’s edge and unhurried, old-world vibe. The perfect antidote for today’s fast-paced world. Walk into Flickorna Helin Cafe in Djurgården (an island within the city limits of Stockholm comprised of parks and museums) and you are greeted with the most beautiful display of cakes and pastries, soups and small sandwiches crowded on a small wooden counter. Order and sit indoors by the fire or step outside to sit on the patio overlooking the park. A bonus, dogs are welcome and sit quietly under tables.

Now that I’m living in Chicago, I’ve carried the tradition of fika with me and share it with friends as much as possible. Recently, my friend Dylan and I wandered the streets in my neighborhood, with no destination in mind. We both had cameras hanging down from our necks and stopped whenever inspiration hit to photograph snowy alleys, old signage, and anything that caught the eye. It wasn’t long before we could feel the brisk January temperatures in our bones. When we stumbled upon the Coffee, Hip-Hop & Mental Health Café, I knew having fika would be the perfect way to bring us warmth and slow down the day. The music and ambience drew us into the coffee shop, but we soon also learned that it operates as a charitable organization whose mission is to connect those who can’t afford it with therapy and mental health advice. Intrigued, we continued our conversation with Brian, the barista, and Dave, the cashier and DJ to learn more. The friendly vibe was wonderful, and we felt instantly comfortable with lattes in hand and a shared blueberry donut. Our conversation gravitated toward some of the music we were listening to, new artists, and playlists we each wanted to put together. We finally parted ways with our caffeinated souls filled, ready to take on the rest of our day.

Regularly carving out time for fika is a ritual of self-care that people look forward to no matter how long the to-do list or how many deadlines loom. There is always more to do, and always more to get done. Like going outside for a walk on cold days, embracing the Swedish mindset of fika can lift your spirit and wellbeing. Anyone can embrace fika by being present in the moment and reconnecting with things that are important.

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