A Good Old Greenlandic Kaffemik

You haven’t fully experienced Greenlandic culture until you’ve been to a kaffemik. This is a social institution here offering good food and great company – what more could you want?

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The More, the Merrier

Traditional Greenlandic kaffemik is a social and festive gathering to celebrate special events, like newly born babies, birthdays, and confirmations. Really, any event worth celebrating calls for a kaffemik. The word “kaffemik” is translated as “via coffee”, where meeting for a brew is just an excuse to turn up and socialise.

Usually, the person of the hour is the one that’s hosting the festivities. It’s the kind of event that requires the finest china and is often prepared for days in advance. While it does involve a lot of work for the host, the most important element is to gather people – the more, the better!

During a kaffemik, more than 50 people will come and go through the whole day. Friends, family, co-workers and neighbours stop by to drink coffee, have some food and mingle, before leaving and making way for new guests to arrive. A kaffemik often creates a warm and welcoming environment for both old and new acquaintances alike, meaning it’s the norm to have visitors attend and there’s no need for you to feel shy!

Colorful woman in Uummannaq, Greenland. Photo: Andrea Klaussner.

Keeping it Casual

A kaffemik is a very laid-back affair and guests aren’t expected to dress up. The emphasis is on interaction, not fashion. The door is open to almost everyone that wishes to swing by, and invitations are usually spread through word of mouth and social media. All you have to do is bring your small-talk skills and an empty stomach. Do remember to take off your shoes and leave them outside the house though as it’s considered rude not to.

Sometimes the host will be wearing the national costume, which differs a bit depending on which part of the country you’re in, and on the honouree’s gender. The male version of the costume is called qaqortumaartoq in indigenous Greenlandic, the female version is called arnatoortoq.

The men’s costume is a little less colourful and is usually more functional than decorative, with a white, hooded anorak made of fine materials like silk and satin, and with dark pants and boots called kamiks. The costume is sometimes decorated with dyed sealskin that is cut into strips and woven into the attire.

Colours and patterns are more common for the women’s national costume, which is made of a blouse with an anorak over it, and trousers. Their kamiks are thigh high and made of sealskin embroidered with silk and floral patterns. It really is a sight!

Handmade Clothes in Itilleq. Photo:  Mads Pihl – Visit Greenland.

Handmade Clothes in Itilleq. Photo: Mads Pihl – Visit Greenland.

Handmade clothes, Upernavik, Greenland. Photo:  Martin Johansen / Theme Media.

Handmade clothes, Upernavik, Greenland. Photo: Martin Johansen / Theme Media.

Arrive Hungry

At a kaffemik you can expect several Greenlandic culinary specialties. A fresh pot of coffee is mandatory, and so is a large number of cakes. Hot dishes are often served as well, so you might be able to sample the country’s unique delicacies, usually sourced during the local hunts. 

In Greenlandic culture, centuries of tradition are attached to hunting and fishing. At the core is utmost respect and appreciation for the reindeer, musk ox, and marine animals which provide needed sustenance to these remote communities. Greenlanders still use traditional ways of preparing and serving food, such as boiling ingredients in seawater to give them a salty taste.

kaffemik is a great way to really experience Greenlandic culture and to meet the locals. If you get invited to one while traveling with us as part of an expedition cruise to Greenland, don’t hesitate to accept. Think of it as a unique sneak peek into the social lives of Greenlanders.

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