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. The fika is where after long hours of hard Lutheran work, we kick back and let our hair out for a minute. No agenda, no chairman, just a conversational free-for-all.
Perhaps it’s not obvious to appreciate the zen of the fika for people from cultures with a transactional get-it-done attitude, 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.
Because 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 in a completely unstructured manner. A free-floating state of mind that can only exist in the cracks between sessions of serious business.
I think the zen of fika is captured best by the Cheshire Cat:
“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.”
I used to be too impatient to spend much time in this mode. In fact 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. I totally get what he meant now.
I guess the forced remote work during lockdown was what really made me see how much I’d come to value the fika. Sure there were some vain efforts made to have zoom-based emulations, but they really just proved that 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.