Fika is much more than just a cup of coffee and a piece of cake. At work, fika is a social event, in which one gets not only to relax and take a break but also to know the colleagues a little better. The art of fika doesn’t rely on the quality of the coffee, as one might think, but instead on the quality of the conversation. In fact, a bad coffee is a very good conversation starter.
As a Newbie is not always easy to blend in and be a part of something that others seem to do so naturally. Especially if the conversation is in Swedish, a language that you might not master yet. Here are some tips that might help, based on my own experience.
Observe the masters
I dare say that every group has at least one fika master, that is someone that can initiate, carry and lead a conversation so well and naturally, that it is never boring to sit around them. Fika masters can turn the most trivial subject into something interesting and worth to discuss. They are usually great story tellers and have good social skills.
Tip: Identify the fika masters and observe them. You will not only improve the art of conversation but also have fun.
Keep it neutral… at first
The themes during a conversation during fika break can vary quite a lot, from trivial everyday life things, like I need to buy a new bag/bike/whatever, to what are your plans for the weekend. As a newbie (not in Sweden but in the group) it will be frowned upon if you start asking personal questions right from the beginning. Instead, keep it neutral until someone asks you a more personal question. This might take a few (or a lot) of fikas, depending on the group, but it will happen.
Tip: You can also show them that you are open to more personal subjects by telling something about yourself without anyone asking. For instance, saying “I saw this movie with my girfriend/boyfriend” instead of just saying “I saw this movie”, will tell your colleagues something about your personal life without actually saying too much. Sometimes that’s the green light they need.
Find conversational themes
A lot can be said during a fika break. Comments about the weather are a good start but they run out quite fast. The best is to engage in a theme in which anyone can and is happy to participate. That theme should be more or less neutral, not related to work and of interest to everyone… That’s a tough one! Actually not. Movies, sports, travelling and current events seem to work pretty well.
Tip: Keep yourself updated on what’s happening in Sweden. Have a look at the news, check how it’s going for the local teams, see which events are about to happen in your city.
Dare, be patient and never give up
I remember my first fika at work. I had just completed the first level of SAS at school and thought I could understand quite a lot and speak reasonably well if given some time to think. The real world proved to be quite different though. The fika room was full of people, many talking simoultaneously, using slang and speaking in different tones and dialects. It was loud and confusing and I felt lost and out of place, but I didn’t give up. I kept going and trying every day. A couple of months after I could not only contribute to the conversation, but I had also improved my conversational swedish more than ever. Nowadays, I still can’t follow every conversation but I can sit comfortably in the fika room without feeling like an alien.
Tip: Remember that listening is also a part of it, so you don’t have to feel forced to participate. Laugh along, smile and be there until you feel like one of them.