Monday, February 11, 2008

Fika--Swedish tea time

Not many days into our stay in Höllviken, Sweden, we learned that it was important to observe fika, tea time. We were told that it is generally practiced around 930 and 1500. When I told Phil about this, he had already been working in Malmö a few days.

"Well, I'm glad to know it has nothing to do with me, then. About 930 every morning, I look up from what I'm doing and those around me have disappeared!"

I urged him to be more aware of the time and go with them wherever they break, as it can be an offense not to participate. He set his phone to alarm him and has been following suit (sometimes they don't have tea), since.

We also found out about a parent/child social hour at the Swedish Lutheran Church in Höllviken. Hunter and I attend on Monday afternoons most regularly, then infrequent the Thursday morning time. During that time, the children play with every imaginable toy for an hour, sing in a circle for half an hour, then everyone goes into the dining area for cheese, crackers, juice, coffee or tea with a suggested donation per family. Of course, they call it "fika."

During one of the Monday afternoon fikas, I met two intelligent mothers and their small children and we hit it off. They like to practice their English with me (one reason I am still slow at learning Swedish) and we enjoy discussing any number of topics together though we each come from very different perspectives.

Shortly after Christmas, Jenny (pronounced "yenny") and Annika got the brilliant idea that we should meet together in each other's homes once weekly. We have been doing so for all of January and February, now, and are quite addicted to our time together. We have met in each home, but since Jenny and Annika's children are so much younger than Hunter, their houses are much more suited for all the children than my rented, furnished and non child-proofed house is. They have plenty more toys, too, as we had to be careful how much we brought over from the U.S. and how much we buy, here.

Jenny loves to cook, so she often provides a homemade Swedish bread or treat when we are at her house. This always amazes me because she has a 6 month old and a 2 year old. Her excuse is that she loves to cook and her oldest is at preschool when she prepares the fika. She is on maternity leave from teaching math and music. She helps me with my Swedish and tells me about upcoming important dates in Sweden.

Annika works part-time at a church in Malmö. She is the one who can usually tell me why a tradition is thus and so or where the origins of something come from. She has figured out what a scrounge I am and has introduced me to the local Lyons sale every other week. She also provided me with a few more sheets, towels and duvet covers from her own supply so we didn't have to simply wash and put everything back on the beds and racks. She has a British friend from whom she has borrowed, for Hunter, books and movies in English as well as a box of Duplo.
You can understand why it is so much fun to get together with these two. The conversation is nearly always lively and frequently punctuated by child squabbles, noise-making toys, and afternoon tiredness tantrums. Our husbands think it is all just fun and games, but we have more than once endured long crying spells from ear infections or serious child tireness. We frequently pass the baby around so that we can all smell like like baby puke when we return home to make dinner.

Both Jenny and Annika's husbands have been able to join us awhile for tea a few times. It is interesting for me to meet them and hear what extra information they can give me about real life in Sweden. Jenny's husband is an ambulance driver and Annika's husband is in construction. Phil doesn't get home in time to enjoy tea with us.

The local bakery, the place I've already mentioned is Hunter's favorite place, is busy every day with people coming to get goodies for fika and bread for every day meals.

Though there are many varieties of tea on the shelves at the grocery stores, whenever I serve some fruity version, people seem to wonder where the real tea is. Jenny and Annika both love an Indian Chai Spice tea.

Together we have eaten the regular digestive crackers that everyone keeps on hand, St. Lucia buns (they are formed in a figure 8 with raisins in each "hole"), cinnamon muffins, chocolate muffins, Swedish cheese cake (the texture of which is more like cottage or ricotta cheese) with whipped cream and berry sauce, wafer crackers with butter and cheese or butter and jam, February "bulla" buns (the name of which I cannot keep in my head) which is a slightly sweet hamburger bun looking thing filled with a square of marzipan and whipped cream. When they were at my house I made a struesel coffee cake. We also had a lingonberry bread with butter and cheese. Lingonberries are the staple berry of Sweden and Finland (I don't know about the other Scandinavian countries).

After church on Sundays our little International church enjoys a good hour of chatting over fika, too. When Phil, Hunter and I travel, now, we feel a definite need to take a break around 3 pm for a little snack and something to drink. This last weekend I told Phil, "Boy, I could sure use some fika about now." Hunter agreed. Here we thought tea time was a British tradition! But this is Europe, baby.

No doubt, there will be many more fika encounters--or I hope so, at least!

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