”Ska vi fika?” when you are asked this question in a Swedish office, the only answer you are supposed to give is ”Yes”. What have you just said “yes” to? Probably to the most common moment of relax in any office worldwide: the coffee break. The Swedes have this little word, Fika. If you wonder what is so special about it, then you’ve probably never had one.
The Swedish fika in offices is an unquestionable institution, a fundamental right equal to paid vacation, a ritual with a fix protocol. Like any other religious ritual, it has a temple, priests, fervent believers and skeptical atheists.
The priest is usually a colleague who, after two hours and a half of work, lifts his/her head from the computer and says: “Nu ska vi fika”, “Now we shall have a coffee-break”. It is not a question, not an invitation, rather an order.
The fervent believers, who were just waiting for the sign, will immediately get up from their chairs and follow the priest to the kitchen, the temple of the fika. Here, surrounded by coffee mugs, cinnamon rolls and tea boxes, the members of the fika-congregation will officiate the ceremony, that usually takes twenty minutes (and this happens twice a day).
But what does one talk about during this fika?
Usually work related matters. If someone just came back from parental leave – diapers and prams will be a recurrent matter. Vacations, plans for the weekend and (sometimes) politics are other topics that might pop up in the conversation.
The atheists (those who ignore the fika and usually hide themselves in order to escape from it) consider it a boring, repetitive moment. That can be true, but do not underestimate the power of the fika.
This is also when you can socialize and approach your colleagues in a more personal way (granted, not the most spontaneous). If you want to say something very personal, slightly provocative or excessive, the fika is NOT the right moment. Save it for the Friday-evening beer or for any other occasion when alcohol is involved. Then it will be more than welcome – and easily forgotten the day after.
Written by Alessandro Bassini
Originally from Italy, I have been living in Sweden for the last eight years. Translating Swedish novels is what I do for a living. Languages is not only my work, but also my passion. I believe that every language has some key-words that best express the culture of the place where it is spoken. A cultural map of the Swedish language is what I want to create with this blog.