During my first visit to Sweden, long before deciding to move here, I knew that I could adjust quite well to Nordic culture due to its lovely traditions like fika—the Swedish coffee break.

While it’s true that many other countries also take coffee breaks, they aren’t appreciated in the same manner as they are here, nor are they mandated by law. Fika is a cultural requisite often including baked sweets, fruit or open-faced sandwiches enjoyed alongside coffee. There’s usually a spread of cookies, cakes (äppelkaka is a personal favorite) and kanelbulle, a traditional cinnamon roll, to choose from at most cafés. Workers in Sweden and Finland are even guaranteed breaks, which often culminate in unofficial fika at 10 and 3, where you may find it difficult to reach someone on the phone.

In addition to the food, fika is also about relaxing in the company of others. Too often in the U.S., cafés are filled with individuals on laptops who take up an entire table for four to check their email. It can be rare to observe a genuine conversation. In Nordic countries however, a café can be filled all day with friends, colleagues and love interests discussing the weather, travel, weekend plans and family life.

The word itself (pronounced fee-ka) originates from a former spelling of the Swedish word for coffee—kaffi—and is still used by older generations to mean just that. Although the term is now used both as a noun and a verb that refers to the occasion itself. You can be invited to have a fika, or you can be asked to fika with someone all the same. Its ambiguous definition allows for many interpretations with no strict rules of conduct.

Apart from a typical coffee break among friends and co-workers, fika also serves an important purpose in Nordic dating culture. To have fika with a potential suitor, allows you to meet casually without the pressure of a formal date, while still fostering the conversation needed to get to know each other. Those participating in a fika, whether as potential lovers or not, also typically pay for themselves, which alleviates an issue I grew up with of playfully arguing over who takes care of the check.

Whether fika is taken as a break from work, school, or as a social gathering, its prevalence in homes and cafés throughout Sweden and other Nordic countries is one reason why they all top the list for highest coffee consumption in the world. It’s quite a triumph for the region and one that I will enjoy taking part in now that I call it my home.

The second photo was taken by flickr user ruminatrix.