In Sweden, the Fika Experience

fika photoCoffee is a way of life in Sweden. It is not simply a beverage you grab to go, or something used for a jolt in the morning. Coffee is an experience. Particular aspects of Swedish culture have made me aware of how inherently American I am. I am never satisfied — always looking to do more or find methods to do things better. In many ways, this is a wonderful quality and has been the backbone for my career. But I’ve learned to couple this with a bit of Swedish mentality, which also can be extremely beneficial. I have learned this through coffee.

What I’ve come to enjoy about Swedes is that there is rarely any rush or agenda behind their coffee drinking. A coffee is taken (as they say) after every meal and is often included in the price of the meal. Most Swedes drink their coffee black, or with a touch of milk and/or sugar. It is not convoluted by cream, excessive sweetener or flavoring.

This experience is similarly wholesome — typically not marred by any planned purpose or urgency of any sort. As an American, I had been accustomed to getting coffee to boost my energy during a day packed with activities. Or sometimes I would plan to meet over coffee to discuss business or catch up with friends. In Sweden, I’ve come to relish the art of what is called fika. Fika, as a noun, refers to the combination of coffee and usually some sort of sweet snack. But fika, as a verb, is the act of partaking in a Swedish social institution.

My soccer career has been nothing short of a roller-coaster ride. Because I am so heavily invested, every success or momentary failure can wreak havoc on my mind and spirit. I have learned in some ways to thrive on the tumult, but in other ways the upheaval takes a huge toll. The fika experience is a time of stillness amid my roller-coaster ride. I used to go sit in a coffee shop to write, or check things off from my to-do list. But the true nature of the fika is to enjoy time and company with no plan or purpose. To fika is not to do, but simply to be.

At times, living abroad was tough. It can be excruciatingly lonely to uproot your life and settle in a new place. In addition, the second half of our season at Kopparbergs/Goteborg was difficult, to say the least. We had a number of disappointing performances, a team wracked with injuries and illness, and our coach (Torbjorn Nilsson, who is highly respected and who coached at the club for six years) announced his intention to quit with a few games left.

I recently arrived home from Sweden with a day to spare before being thrown into yet another emotionally turbulent environment: camp with the U.S. women’s national team. The life of a professional soccer player does include ample free time, but I realize more and more that the mind is never at rest. When I’m off the field, I often replay training or game situations again and again or visualize future ones.

These situations have led me to appreciate some things I typically might overlook in a more comfortable situation or when everything is running smoothly. I have learned to thoroughly enjoy the company of good people, for no other reason than to enrich my life and feel the joy of their companionship. I have learned to shut off my inner drive and personal angst temporarily. And I have learned, over a cup of coffee, for even a brief time to stop doing and to enjoy just being.