To kaffemik or not to kaffemik?



A kaffemik we attended in East Greenland. Amazing chance to see inside a Greenlander’s home! Photo: Visit Greenland – Mads Pihl.

If you randomly asked me one day if I would join you for a kaffemik, I would say with an awkward smile that I don’t ‘kaffemik’ very well. I consciously turn this noun into a verb, because in this land where everything is celebrated by this event, it is also a way of being

Unless I know the host and his or her friends well, I struggle to stay afloat at kaffemiks. I should put in the caveat that I do enjoy going to kaffemiks when I’m there, and the whole principle of how a kaffemik is set up is very practical for guests since in principle, you only attend if you would like to. I love being invited, but sometimes do feel weird going. Especially going solo, or when I’m relatively friendless. So quite regularly, I take the easy way out and just don’t attend. No offence to anyone.


Let’s quickly recap what a kaffemik is: If you look at it simply, it is traditionally an open-house event held during the day where coffee, tea and food is served to celebrate a milestone. A fancy kaffemik might provide everything from soup to reindeer roast and whale blubber to a dozen different type of cakes, but they can be much simpler affairs. Kaffemiks might have a start time, finishing when the last guest goes home. In smaller communities it really can be an open house event. In larger towns there is usually an invite list plus a start and finish time outlined. Even if there is an invite list, kaffemiks are open enough that it is assumed that you can bring a companion or three along with you. The guest should usually bring a token gift of thanks for being invited and it is normal to stay for two or so cups of coffee. If you decide to skip a kaffemik there is no need to RSVP. This makes for a catering challenge, meaning that the host is usually cooking for days on end for an unconfirmed amount of guests. A simple affair, right?

If you look a little deeper into kaffemiks, one could surmise that they are the veins that keep blood flowing across the Greenlandic community. By holding kaffemiks, the social ties across different echelons of society are renewed, and you refresh the relationships with people you might not see privately but only at these parties.

There are lots of traditions for kaffemiks and I haven’t figured them all out yet since these rules are embedded in assumed culture. They probably also vary from community to community. I guess that’s what makes them so fascinating.

A few quirks about kaffemiks

So now you know a little more about kaffemiks, here are some things about them that make me squirm:

It feels like networking

I hate networking. I love meeting new people, but I hate being forced to socialise. My mouth goes dry and I feel completely squeamish! Kaffemiks might not necessarily be about networking but it is about relationships. At the very least, it is about the guests’ relationship to the host. If you, as a relative stranger, are invited to a kaffemik in Nuuk, it’s an indication that you are welcome into the outer ring of a friendship circle. It’s your chance to get to know the host a little more deeply. Like any other social relationship if you want to nurture this friendship further you might reciprocate by inviting the person to your own kaffemik or to a more private gathering at a later stage. You don’t even have to talk much with the host at kaffemiks, since the host is usually so busy, but your presence is important.

That’s another thing!

You don’t have to talk at a kaffemik

You can go to a kaffemik and do as some Greenlanders do: eat some food, drink a cup of coffee, give a present and then leave after 20 minutes. All without saying more than two sentences. Once I went a kaffemik where it was deafeningly silent. A table of guests just sat there and enjoyed the delicious food in the presence of each other’s company. Without talking. I’m going to blame it on my cultural upbringing when I admit that I have previously felt fidgety sitting around at a table of strangers being silent. I’m slightly more comfortable doing this now and it can be nice not having to make awkward small talk. However, in general If I go somewhere I feel like I should socialise with other guests. I love the concept that you can just go to a kaffemik and be silent beyond a eyebrow-raising hello but it seriously feels weird. It’s just not in my nature. But luckily for me, most kaffemiks I’ve attended have been a bit conversant. Sometimes they are actually very noisy with a full house of guests and kids creating havoc! 😉

Can you really just stay for twenty minutes?

Yes you can. But I’ll let you in on a secret: it took me more than twenty minutes to muster up courage to attend your kaffemik, so I feel like I should stay awhile longer. I do love the concept with the kaffemik that you can ‘just leave’ when you need to, so you can really make a visit short and sweet. I have started to utilise this social convention when I’ve been busy (or uncomfortable).

People always make fun of, or sometimes jokingly complain that ‘the Danes’ often stay too long at kaffemiks. The ‘new’ Danes, who epitomise the general foreigner in every case in Greenland, don’t know that they are overstaying their welcome because they might hang around for hours. Or they might see that more guests have come but they don’t vacate their seat for the later arrivals since they are having too much fun. In order to battle this kaffemik convention, I’ve since been invited to ‘Danish’ kaffemiks, where the concept is similar to the regular…except that you’re welcome to hang out as long as you like.

Can you really just not show up? 

Apparently you only need to attend kaffemiks if you would like to – traditionally you didn’t even need to RSVP to the event. Facebook events have made it easier to RSVP but quite often hosts still don’t know how many people are actually attending their shindig. It depends on the weather. If it’s great weather or crappy weather, you might be screwed 😉 If you’re close to the host however, I learnt from my Greenlandic colleagues that you must excuse yourself if you cannot attend their kaffemik. You might still give them a present, or even deliver a cake to their doorstep the day before in order to make up for your absence!

Who would have thought that a simple meet up for coffee would entail so much thought, huh? I kind of went down the rabbit hole exploring the concept of the kaffemik, but I would like to stress again that I do enjoy kaffemiks and even going when I can muster up the courage. But if you ever invited me to a kaffemik before and I didn’t turn up, now you know why. Don’t take it personally. I just don’t kaffemik very well, and I’d rather hang out with you in a smaller and less formalised setting. Or perhaps the weather was just so fine that day that I went out sailing like everyone else. That would be acceptable in Greenland. =)

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