It’s 3 o’clock in the afternoon on a Tuesday in late-August. You’re enjoying a wonderful sunny day sitting outside at your favorite café in Normalm, sipping a latte from one of those oversized white mugs. A waitress comes by dropping off a slice of Prinsesstårta, that lime green cake you can find at every IKEA cafeteria (obviously, the cake I am referring to is that famous one from Vete-Katten that everyone always raves about) . You’re having a wonderful conversation with your friends and just letting the afternoon pass by. The last thought on your mind is, “Gee, I wonder where my boss thinks I am.” That is probably because your boss is out doing the same thing at a different café somewhere.
What I am describing is Fika. Taking a fika is simple: you go out for coffee (or tea or another drink) and grab a small bite to eat (or not) and just quickly finish it at a café or spend time with friends for a few hours. It can be in the morning, afternoon, evening. There’s not much to it — all that matters is that you take a break and refresh yourself with a drink and a snack, surrounded by friends or colleagues wanting to do the same.
Fika (pron. Fee-kuh) was born in Sweden and has become a pillar in Swedish business culture. It is highly regarded as a part of the Swedish workday that even declining an offer to have a Fika with colleagues is often considered rude.
I like to think of it as an adult version of recess. The teacher wants to kick you out of the classroom for a short period of time so you all go outside for a bit to play. Of course, this is Sweden after all, so being outside in January when it is -5C outside, may not be the best idea.
Despite the concept of Fika not flowing across the ocean to the United States (well, not traditionally the same thing really), I still try to go for my afternoon coffee break with colleagues to break up the day — and it really helps you get a bit of rest from staring at that computer screen all day. Just even taking 15 minutes to grab some coffee has really helped me get a quick little refresh and head back to work feeling a lot more productive.
During my time exploring Stockholm, I went for Afternoon Fika every day, because let’s face it, after walking many, many kilometers, I needed that bit of caffeine and sugar rush to carry me through the remainder of the day.
After my afternoon (or morning) Fika, I often found myself wandering through the narrow streets of Gamla Stån, the old city center, complete with colorful Scandinavian-styled buildings and filled with cafés and restaurants.
Still, nothing beat wandering around Gamla Stån with all the tourists and children playing Pokémon Go (this was August 2016 after all and it was the hot app it was, one month after release) — hell I was still playing at point in time.
These days, most of the good cafés and restaurants are in the Normalm and Södermalm parts of the city. Of course I needed to eat something other than the delightfully sweet Prinsesstårta or Hallongrottor (Small Raspberry Tarts) or Kladdkaka (Sticky White Chocolate Cake) — I did have to go for some savory food, too! (Note: I actually prefer savory food, but there are times when I just go crazy for sweets). My go-to spots in Stockholm were located in Södermalm. Of course I had to get Swedish Meatballs in Sweden (I know, cliché) and they had to be not the ones you get for $4.99 at that Blue-and-Yellow, build-it-yourself furniture store (you know the one).
I had the best Swedish meatballs of my life in Södermalm, and it was well worth the 179kr (USD 19.60 at the time of this writing) I gladly paid for them. The plate looked so pretty too, I of course had to say Asian Grace (read: take a photo of my food before eating it).
I love getting lost when I travel. Well, somewhat lost. I call it “organized wandering”. I know where I need to go and the map points me in a general direction, so I walk that way. I don’t necessarily follow the map, but use my senses to explore a bit on my way to the destination. It ends up working well, because it usually leads me to interesting food places or cool parts of a city I wouldn’t go if I follow Google Maps to the path it projects for me. A few of my friends dont like it when I wander off, but hey, I’m traveling and part of that is enjoying that feeling that you don’t know exactly where you are going and your sense of adventure kicks in.
It didn’t matter to me if it was raining or blue sky outside. I still wandered all over the city (hell, I’m not staying inside my hotel room when it’s raining). It reminds me of Seattle — doesn’t matter if rain or shine, people will still go outside for a walk or stroll (at least I do) when it’s raining. There are still ways to enjoy a rainy day outside. When I was a kid, growing up in Southern California where it rarely rains, I would run outside, barefoot (or fully naked one day when I was 3 years old) and just jump in puddles, get soaked and have no care in the world. Now being 26, living in Seattle, I can still get that childish sense of adventure to get wet (only if I don’t have to go to work or have someplace to be that I can’t show up soaking wet).
I always find I can get good photos of colorful things (especially red and orange-colored things) when it is grey and rainy outside. And when I travel, I have to get a bit wet (or muddy or covered in bird poop) to really get that sense of adventure. I’ve realized a lot of my adventures where I have gotten soaking wet while traveling had me ducking into café to dry off, have a coffee and some pastry. I guess my go-to cure for getting wet is having a Fika.