Cafés: A Cultural Immersion Experience

I’ve been in Stockholm for a little over two weeks now. By no means do I have a full lay of the land, but I am slowly progressing toward a comprehensive feel of the city. When I came here, I knew I wanted to explore the city; however, I wanted to see the city from the eyes of a Stockholm inhabitant, rather than from the eyes of a tourist. I chose to study abroad, as most do, because I want to experience living in a new country, not simply touring around and seeing the main attractions. In my time here thus far, I’ve succeeded in exploring the city and blending in with the locals by becoming a café lover.

It all started with a couple walks. On these walks, some of which took me through Södermalm, Östermalm, and Vasastan, I would quickly take note on my phone of the quaint or interesting coffee shops that I passed. While coffee is certainly a part of my life at home in Los Angeles, coffee culture is entirely different here. Firstly, the coffee is stronger. Secondly, the cafés are more homey, as if they’re designed for you to stay and enjoy the drink, rather than grabbing a cup on-the-go to keep you awake. I think that this is perhaps due to the concept of fika (taking a coffee and pastry break midday), which is somewhat of a foreign idea in the US.

Intrigued by this cultural difference, I have begun to test different coffee shops around town. I write this blog post from a coffee shop at the entrance of a movie theater in Södermalm, where I intend to sit for a couple hours doing homework or writing. Last week, I spent over four hours in a coffee shop partially built under a hill. I’m getting the opportunity to venture around town and people watch, learning which areas seem to attract certain types of people. 

Furthermore, this fun habit gives me a chance to be surrounded by Swedish culture, as it takes me away from the touristy hot spots and brings me into the real Stockholm. It puts me in a space where I can work alongside other Swedes and gain a true sense of Swedish norms on my own. I highly recommend café hopping, as it shows a side of the city that one won’t find in the classroom.

Carrington Walsh
Spring 2018
Harvard University