The Corona-quarantine strikes a blow to the heart of Swedish work culture, how are we supposed to get anything done when we can no longer meet for fika!?
The fika is a very Swedish phenomenon. Its exact value can be hard to grasp, even for natives. Technically just a coffee break, there’s a lot going on under the surface.
This is where our mediterranean streak is brought out; after intense stints of hard Lutheran work, we kick back and let our hair out for a minute. For once, there are no agendas and no chairman, it’s a conversational free-for-all where everyone gets to talk about just about anything.
Working in a context where most people I interact with are foreigners, I would think it’s especially challenging to appreciate the zen of the fika for people from cultures with a transactional get-it-done attitude. Germans, Americans, perhaps the Japanese too? Whereas mediterranean guests would likely feel right at home (provided that they learn to master our admittedly difficult language). They’d recognise the slow meandering shit-chat and see that even though there’s no point to these gatherings, they’re far from pointless.
Fika might be both a source and a symptom of our special flavour of egalitarian social cohesion. Everyone gets to speak their mind and all judgements are suspended. It also fills another function. I spend my days working with inventors. They’re really good at solving problems, but what’s less apparent is the process that has to happen before a problem can even be attacked.
Even the most creative brainstorming session will typically have a clearly formulated goal, but how do you arrive at formulating one that is interesting enough to be worth your while?
Well, you let your mind wander, you interact with people with different experiences and mindsets, you let your assumptions be challenged and you do all these things without agenda, in a completely unstructured manner. A free-floating state of mind that can only exist in the cracks between sessions of serious business.
I’m often too impatient to spend much time in this mode (I once had a boss telling me he was happy with my overall performance but would like to see me spend more time at fika.) Still though. Now that me and my colleagues are forced to work remotely, I find myself missing these moments. Sure we tried our best to recreate them using Zoom, but much of the quality is lost in the air waves. Certain types of activities simply doesn’t translate well, I guess you’d be similarly disappointed if you’d try to pull a theatre troupe together for remote rehearsals, the magic simply isn’t happening.
But that’s fine, really. We’ll survive and once we get back to normal we’ll have learned to appreciate all the little things that we’ve been taking for granted. Until then, let’s break for a cup of coffee and meditate on the following lines from Alice in wonderland:
“Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?”
“That depends a good deal on where you want to get to,” said the Cat.
“I don’t much care where” said Alice.
“Then it doesn’t matter which way you go” said the Cat.
“–so long as I get SOMEWHERE” Alice added as an explanation.
“Oh, you’re sure to do that” said the Cat, “if you only walk long enough.”