Wednesday, November 14, 2007

The Swedish Coffee Culture

I don’t drink coffee. Which seems to shock Swedes. People are kind of taken aback when I tell them. I usually just politely decline or ask for some water. But after being asked repeatedly by the same people I will eventually let the cat out of the bag. I don’t drink the black stuff. This is a big moment in Sweden. Reactions can vary. Some people try to be supportive. Others are disturbed and want nothing to do with me. Still others pretend like it’s ok but never look at me the same again. But in the end most people have a similar reaction. They are shocked and follow my admission with some sort of snide remark about how it’s just a matter of time.

It’s not that I haven’t tried. I have. I actually think it smells pretty good as it’s brewing. But I can’t do it. It’s too bitter. Pushers try to get me to try it with milk, cream, sugar, flavoring. But still it tastes like coffee. Then they try to push the fancy little drinks that cost 45 SEK for something the size of a shot of vodka. They tell me it won’t taste like coffee. But they lie. They just want someone to have that nasty coffee death breath with. But it won’t be me. I’ve even tried it when drunk thinking that my taste buds would be dulled and I could handle it. I was wrong.

It’s actually not just coffee, I’m not a big hot-drink person. I like hot chocolate, and I like glögg, which is a glorious Christmas time alcoholic drink that usually involves a good party and plenty of shenanigans. At least in my family. And that’s about it. No tea, not hot apple cider, no hot toddies. It just doesn’t do it for me. Anyway, Swedes aren’t exactly used to that mindset. Maybe it’s the cold that forces them to suck down hot drinks all the time. And the darkness that forces them to always get their next caffeine fix. Or maybe they are all just addicts.

In reality though coffee seems to be used as some sort of social lubricant, kind of like alcohol just without the chance of vomiting in someone’s lap, or dancing in someone’s lap for that matter. It gives people a reason to meet up aside from the ever important fika, and, more importantly to the Swedes, it gives them something to occupy their time when the conversation hits that awkward silent part. And there’s a good chance it will.

When I told my cousin in Stockholm that I didn’t drink coffee she was shocked and then asked me what I drank when I went out with friends as if cafes and restaurants only served coffee or coffee variations. I manage quite alright without slurping down liter upon liter of Swedish coffee. Although, sometimes the restaurants get a little carried away with the coffee thing.

I’ve even had someone tell me that since I was in my twenties and grew up in the US it wasn’t surprising that I didn’t drink coffee. As if all twenty something Americans don’t drink coffee. I didn’t even know there were stereotypes that Americans in their twenties don’t drink coffee. I have clearly led a sheltered life.

A few restaurants offer lunch time buffets where you get food, salad, and coffee at the end. Great deal right? But they won’t let you trade the coffee for a regular drink. I’ve asked. Multiple times. At multiple restaurants. And it’s always the same answer… tyvärr. As in, sorry, why the hell don’t you just drink the coffee like a normal person. But I don’t. And I won’t. And I’m ok with who I am and the choices I have made.

20 comments:

  1. Give it time, I didn't drink the stuff till June either...

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  2. hey...dont give it any time...
    you dont like it, you dont like it...thats as good as it gets!

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  3. Ella is just one of those pushers. That's what happens in a "big city" where kangaroos are hopping all over the place.

    I'm going to hold out. Just say no.

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  4. Don't listen to those drug pushers!

    I only drink coffee when I REALLY need to stay awake or sometimes when I was in college. I love hot drinks though (hot chocolate, hot mocha, mulled wine- the french way ;) )

    Stay strong! Maybe in a few months when I'm in Sthlm we can go for a fika without the coffee. Then everybody can stare in shock!

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  5. I can understand your point of you, yet being a coffee drinker myself. In Finland you drink either coffee or tea. I'm not a friend of tea but when it's made with care it's more than 'sådär'. I'm in the same situation with beer, and get the same response. Let's be strong, even if didn't kill us :)

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  6. @sapphire - I'm not sure we would get served. they might kick us out thinking us to be some sort of spy. it could get ugly. in a passive aggressive swedish sort of way!

    @smek this - we will prevail!

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  7. I say HS this calls for an experiment on how many coffee shops you can visit and not drink coffee and NOT be treated like a spy.

    Maybe you should considering wearing the tight jeans, scarf, and fanny pack to properly blend in. =)

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  8. oh man... I don't know if Im willing to go that deep undercover. I'd have to go out and buy a fanny pack, and there is something so very wrong with that situation.

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  9. LOL so I'm a little late in the game responding to this 2 year old post. But I recently stumbled upon your blog and, actually considering moving to sweden myself, thought it was an awesomely entertaining reserve of useful swedish insights. So. . about this post. You don't drink coffee. . but I literally can't drink alcohol. I'm unfortunately one of those asians that seem to lack both enzymes to break it down. So basically I go from 0 to passed out with a migraine in 20 minutes. Can you IMAGINE the kind of damper THAT would put on the swedish social lubricant?

    ~ cecile

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  10. wow. swedes wont know how to handle you. at all.

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  11. ...And I thought the US was pretty coffee orientated. I suppose that comes from spending too much time in the Yuppie Chicago neighborhood I went to High School in.

    I don't really understand people drinking coffee after a meal. Like, "hey, we just had a culinara-rific dinner, but lets forget all about that with a nice cup of bitterness."

    I thought my Swede was joking when he said that Americans don't seem to like coffee that much. Guess not.

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  12. he was not joking. they down the stuff just about any chance they get. Im with you though. a bitter hot drink isnt exactly how I want to rinse down my food.

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  13. Lol. I know what you mean. I've never been to Sweden but my relatives are big on upholding Swedish ways. Once they leaned that I didn't drink black coffee they grumbled about how I wouldn't ever be a proper Swede.

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  14. I work with a guy who, despite my constant reminders of not drinking coffee, asks me if Id like some everytime he goes to get some.

    He is either very nice. Not a good listener. Or trying to wear me down.

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  15. I found this very amusing. I am an American who consumes quite a lot of coffee. However i recently read that book, "The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo" (dumb name, good book) and was shocked by how much coffee was involved in almost every situation. I had to do a search on "Swedish people and coffee" to find out if this was some culturally idiosyncrasy (the way my British family is about tea...and how it should be drank. they were shocked to find that I don't like milk or sugar in my tea), or if the author was just really into coffee and spent much of his time thinking about it. This is how i found your blog.

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  16. the sad thing is I didn't even notice how much coffee was being consumed in the book. it didn't seem strange to me. you are not the first person to have mentioned this though so clearly something is going on there!

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  17. I am currently in Sweden, on vacation. I have been here for 25 days. I like most things here except the coffee here and I don't know why. I am a coffee lover. I drink coffee everywhere I go. Swedes seem to be pretty proud of their coffee, too. I have been looking everywhere online to try to find a reason why. online, swedish people seem to say that american coffee tastes like warm water. i think it could be that coffee here in sweden simply taste too strong for me, but I just think there is more to it. i feel that there is some aroma that i enjoy about coffee that's missing in the coffee that i get here in sweden. the same thing happened to me in australia as well. i just had problem finding a good cup of coffee that's to my liking when i was in australia. it is strong. i lived in tokyo for the past 10 months before i came to stockholm. i loved coffee in tokyo. i loved coffee in paris. can coffee really be that different from one place to another? i mean, like you said in your blog, it always tastes like coffee, doesn't it? it's a mystery to me. next time when i travel to stockholm, i am going to bring my own supply of coffee.

    cool blog! keep it up!

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  18. Swede in USA missing coffeeSeptember 18, 2011 at 9:12 AM

    Funniest thing I've read in a long time :)

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  19. Odd, I knew that Swedes love their "joe", as we call it in the states, I always thought Americans drank quite a huge amount of coffee. It seems like everyone has 1-3 cups in the morning, perhaps one at lunch (or perhaps not), and if staying out late coffee is mandatory. With or without drinking alcohol (with is most likely-- this is the US :)

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  20. Yeah, I still don't drink coffee and still don't really get what the big deal is.

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