How Languages Define Culture:
How do you define culture? Culture is the accumulation of the values, beliefs, and attitudes of
a group of people. It can often cause confusion or discomfort when traveling or living abroad,
click here for more about culture
shock. One of the tasty rewards of learning a second language is that you acquire words for
customs and institutions of your host country.
For example, when I learned Swedish, I got to participate in the daily ritual of fika. However,
fika doesnt translate well into American English. You might translate it loosely as coffee
break, because most Swedes drink coffee. Or you might say it is the equivalent of British tea
time. Even that doesnt capture the full meaning. Let me explain.
Building a Network of Friends
Swedes have a daily ritual of meeting together for coffee (or a soft drink for children)
and a cookie or a smörgås (open-faced sandwich). Everyone takes this informal break each day:
families at home, employees at work, friends at school. Other activities stop as people gather
together for fika.
Its real (not virtual) social networking, invented long before the internet, and a
vehicle for parents to listen to children, employees to establish rapport with co-workers, and
friends to build ties. Only by living and learning Swedish can you fully appreciate the civilizing
benefits of this cultural ritual.
Swedes Value Deep Friendships
Because of the warm friendships that I developed during daily fika breaks, I learned the meaning
of lifetime friendships, of what it means to be Swedish and to build deep relationships. There is
a healthy benefit to slowing down for a little while each day, something that I'd never appreciated
while living in the US.
I'm not sure if my opinions are colored by the fun times and warm relationships built during fika,
but it is my unbiased opinion that Swedes make the best tasting cookies and biscuits in the world.
You can try a few of my favorites. Coming soon, click here for my favorite Swedish cookie recipes.
Rituals like fika define culture. This warm tradition offers insight into what it means to be
Swedish, and its the perfect venue for learning both language and culture. Early on I wrote up and
memorized a short dialog, practiced it faithfully, and as my language ability and my cultural
understanding grew, built on it, expanded it, turned it into a remarkably useful conversational
tool. Sometimes, the best way to learn is to take a break. It sure was in Sweden.
Share Your Story or Read Other People's
Do you have a great story about culture? Visit the
Culture Corner to share your story or to read
the experiences of others as they've traveled in other countries.
Click here to return from Define Culture to Culture Corner
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Language and Social Institutions Intertwine
Fika is a social institution in Sweden; ... This practice of taking a break, typically
with a cinnamon roll and/or some biscuits or cookies, ... is central to Swedish life.
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