Denmark and Sweden are well known for their furniture with clean lines, simple utilitarian clothing brands, and natural lifestyles. They keep their bread and cakes pretty uncomplicated too. James Orrick enjoys a traditional Nordic break and looks at what we could learn from The Great Scandinavian Bake Off.
Setting a good work-life balance is important in the Nordics. So much so that they have their own vocabulary for it; Hygge. Not directly translatable to English, Hygge means being comfortable, cozy and sharing food and drink with the people you are close to. It’s central to the way life is lived. Once again, the Nordic countries have ranked as the happiest countries in the world by the United Nations World Happiness Report, so maybe we could all learn a few lessons by getting a great work-life balance and embracing this way of life.
Rooted in the custom of eating sociably, Sweden to embraces this wholeheartedly. Known for their fika breaks which feature coffee and pastries, it’s a ritual similar to Britain’s afternoon tea tradition, where people sit and socialise over a hot drink and small snacks. In fact, Sweden’s population of ten million are responsible for 1% of the world’s coffee intake – the second highest in the world behind Finland. However, it isn’t just a coffee break. A fika break is a moment to slow down and appreciate the good things in life.
When it comes to the selection of traditional fika treats, the variety to choose from seems endless. Perhaps the most iconic fika recipe is that of the kanelbullar, or cinnamon bun. Sprinkled with a coating known as pearl sugar, these treats evoke many a childhood memory for the Swedes. Then we have smakakor, literally translated as small cookies, of which there is a variant to suit any taste.
Not a sweet tooth? There’s a fika treat for you too. Savoury options include smorgas, an open sandwich the Scandinavians are known for – rustic bread piled high with fillings such as peach and prosciutto, sweet potato and goats cheese or a tomato tartine to name but a few. Although you may have had your fair share of open sandwiches in the café down the road, Swedes have been doing so for centuries. The first loaves of bread were baked a thousand years ago using barley flour, after Scandinavian soldiers learned baking techniques between 200-400 AD whilst working as mercenaries in the Roman army.
But it’s not merely what they eat that makes these breaks fit perfectly with Hygge but more the ritual of doing so. The idea of having your ‘coffee to go’ is unfathomable, as coffee breaks are just that – time for a break. In fact, in Sweden, they are officially entitled to have regular fika breaks at work, with most Swedes stopping their daily activity and routines for a planned break.
Our PEA teams in Sweden and Denmark certainly appreciate the advantages of hygge and fika. We make a point of taking time out, enjoying a moment for coffee and cake and recharging batteries. We get back to work with real purpose, clarity and renewed vigour, fully focused on delivering greater efficiencies and self-improvement, ultimately for the benefit of our clients. PEA has a reputation for embracing innovation within the three jurisdictions in which it operates. Opportunities to adopt beneficial practices will always be on the agenda.
Time for a fika break anyone?
James Orrick holds a Masters in Corporate Governance from Bournemouth University, a BSc (Hons) in Accounting and Finance from the University of Essex, is a Fellow of the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants and the Institute of Chartered Secretaries and Administrators.