Friday, April 18, 2008

My favourite Swedish word

A couple of years ago, I was walking home in the middle of the night with a man's arms around me. It had been raining and we were walking carefully as not to step on any worms.

We were in the phase of getting to know each other and we both asked a million questions. I remember telling him that my favourite smell in the whole world came from baking; cinnabons and chocolate cakes. When asked about my favourite sound, I said "The sound of my telephone ringing when I feel lonely". They are both still my favourites.

I can't remember what his favourite smell was, but he loved the sound of waves crashing in over a beach.

He asked me what my favourite word in Swedish was. I remember thinking long and hard about it, without being able to come up with a proper answer. The conversation shifted to Swedish words that can be difficult to pronounce for those who aren't native Swedish. Sjuksköterska. Sjöstjärna. Sju.

If I was asked the same question today; what my favourite Swedish word is, I'd know the answer.

It's fika.

Not because of the way it sounds. It's kind of hard with the k in the middle. But because of the meaning and how it's used.

Fika is both a noun and a verb. I like words like that. Words that are multifunctional.

Fika as a verb is something we all do at work. It's almost a social institution here in Sweden. Twice a day (often at 9am and 2.30pm if you have a day job) we all leave our desks and come together to sit down and relax. There's coffee and tea. And sometimes sandwiches, biscuits or cakes. And we talk about work, tv shows, our weekend plans, yesterday's football game and the latest CDs we bought. In many work places, the boss sits there with the employees. And the colleague who choses not to sit with the others is most often considered anti-social and strange...

Fika as a verb is also something we do in our spare time, outside of work. We "fikar" with our friends in cafés or at home. That's when we drink coffee, tea or hot chocolate. If you're not a poor student or on a diet, you'll also have something like a cupcake or cinnabon.

Fika as noun is the whole event. It's everything you drink and eat and talk about.

Asking someone "Ska vi fika?" (using the verb) or "Ska vi ta en fika?" (using the noun) doesn't limit the person being asked in the same way as "Shall we go for a cup of coffee?". Being a non-coffee drinker I don't like that the beverage is included in the question as I want my own choice of tea or hot chocolate... And whether or not I'll include a cupcake or not...

The idea of a "fika" also appeals to me. I used to live in a university town and it was (and still is) crowded with cafés and restaurants where one can go for a "fika". During my student years, I could spend hours in cafés after class. And being a student I'd make my tea or hot chocolate last for a looong time before going for refill.

My friends and I had different places we went to depending on the mood we were in. Some of our favourite cafés were great to spend time in when one just wanted to hang out and talk. Others had great cakes. Some had great views for people watching. Others had an interesting clientel. A couple had air condition. Or great seats outdoors. Sometimes the process of choosing where to go was just as much fun as the "fika" in itself.


What's your favourite word in your native language? Care to tell me why?


DotMom (a.k.a. Julie) said...

Anna -- What a lovely post!! Being of Swedish descent (my grandparents immigrated from Sweden to the US in the 1920s), I love hearing about your cultural traditions.

This seems like something my grandmother used to practice, although casually. She also made the best pastries, coffee cakes and cookies I can remember. She passed away in 1979. So it's been a long time since I've enjoyed her goodies.

Thanks for bringing those memories back for me!!

essjay said...

I agree with Julie - I loved reading this post (and all your posts!). It is so awesome to read about your life in Sweden.

My favorite English word is dichotomy/dichotomous ( I have no idea why, I just feel that it has power behind it and really empasizes a huge difference between two things.

Matte said...

Anna kära, Det är den bästa bloggen någonsin. Fika!