Cycling through Lund at night (4pm) is nothing short of bewitching. Maybe it’s the sound of friction as my tires bounce over the cobblestones, or being transported back in time as I pass the imposing cathedral. I jolt back to the present when a SJ-2000 screeches along the tracks of the bridge I am currently gliding under. Probably coming back from Malmö or Copenhagen. Surely it will be picking up revelers eager to celebrate lilla fredag.
I’m craving a drink myself, but not one containing ethanol compounds, no, not tonight. Tonight I’m after a different compound, one that has been near and dear to me since before alcohol had passed my lips: glorious caffeine. Tonight is my regular social fika. I think I’ve only missed one since I’ve been in Lund. And why would I? Coffee, sweets, good company and music are to be had, and on a bitterly cold night with icy rain in the forecast, I can’t think of a place I’d rather be.
The sheer novelty that this particular fika is hosted by a metal band only improves the atmosphere. There is slew of international students here, comprising an eclectic group of Chinese, Germans, Austrians, Slovenians, Americans, and of course, Swedes.
Everyone brings something to contribute. Dark Times impresses by pouring darkness, death, destruction, and love into a different Swedish baked good every week. The coffee is as black as the music they play, but as sweet as their hearts.
The iPod is passed around, but only after the inaugural playing of “Rockin’ in the Free World” at 17:30 sharp, every week. We swap different tastes in music as we talk about our days and study each other’s differences.
The coffee, the sweets, music, stories, languages, and laughter come together to fuel an amazing microcosm of cultural exchange I have come to love and enjoy every Thursday. The Facebook event gives the night a 2-hour time slot, but everyone always stays late.
I don’t know if Dark Times intended to create such an institution to further international understanding, unity, and friendship, or if they simply wanted to be the most unique metal band in the world. One thing is certain: x number of years from now when they’re famous, every face-melting note I hear will remind me of kaffe, kanelbullar, and kompanionship. See what I did there?
What is fika?
I can brag on Sweden all day. Rather, I have, if you’ve been reading at all. What’s not to like about free healthcare, zippy public transportation, and the joy of actually seeing your tax dollars go to work?
However, the enigmatic Scandinavian atmosphere would be lost without the coffee culture. Sweden trails behind only the other Nordic countries when it comes to coffee consumption per capita. I’ve never consumed caffeine at such a rate as when I was living in Lund. This is mostly due to an awesome social institution known as fika, or kafferep in some circles.
Similar to the Spanish siesta with opposing results, the goal is the same: take some time in the day to decompress, get your shit together, and start the latter half of the day with a clear mind.
Between 1 and 4pm, the coffee houses are packed and Swedes are chilling in the park with the sweet, caffeinated goodness. This is in addition to your lunch break, I should add.
Lazy Europeans, right? Oh contraire. While Sweden has its fair share of companies that are doing poorly in these crazy economic times, they are doing so well right now that economists and entire nations are studying them as a model to figure some way out of the Eurozone crisis.
Everyone needs a sanity hour, and it seems to work for the Swedes. Maybe if more employers recognized the perfectly human need to power down for a bit, we could be more productive as well.