Catalans Abroad

Xavier Cusidó Oliete

A northern paradise

Why did you leave Catalonia?
I’ve always been an adventurer. Meeting new people, living in new places and the challenge of starting from scratch always attracted me. I started getting a taste for freedom when I went to a school in England at 14, and since then, home has been many places.
Why did you choose Hesseng?
After our son was born in Tucson, Arizona, we knew we wanted our kids to grow up in a safe environment, so we decided to move to the security of countryside life of Finnmark, where my wife is from. The first time I visited Norway, during a 10,000-kilometre solo cycling trip in Europe, I fell completely in love with everything the remote and unknown north had to offer.
How long have you lived there?
We moved to Hesseng after living for four years in Asker, so we’ve been in Norway for about 18 years now.
Are you happy with the job opportunities you found in your adoptive country?
Absolutely. Here we only have about 4% unemployment, and before Covid it was 1.5%. If you adapt and make the minimal effort to blend in, Norway, and especially Finnmark, opens the doors wide for everyone.
Tell us about the Catalan Casal, when it was founded, and its activities.
Finnmark is huge and the new Catalan Casal in Tromsø is quite far away, about 800 kilometres from us. We keep in touch electronically. In a way, I try to create my own “Casal” in Hesseng, but Catalans usually come here just for a short period and generally have big problems blending in socially. Most of them just barely know English and already come with the idea of staying just for some few months. During summer I try to welcome and interact with the occasional Catalan tourist by showing them around, telling them about our county and treating them to a nice stay at our place. There’s a huge language barrier that keeps non-English speakers from interacting with the locals. If you move here, then the barrier comes if you don’t learn Norwegian. Many foreigners that don’t learn the language end up with their own community and they keep away from the general one. So, some advice here to all newcomers that would like to experience Norway to its fullest, learn Norwegian and blend in.
What is the best thing about living there?
The extreme contact with raw nature. We live in the real last frontier in Europe. The geography here is dramatic and rough. Part of my heritage is from the Basque Country and the north of Norway often reminds me of it.
What would you most like it to change?
Nothing. Finnmark is a paradise.
What do you miss most from home?
I’ve lived outside Catalonia for about 30 years. I have lived in many places. Catalonia will always be part of me, but I feel as much fromFinnmark, and Arizona is also part of the equation. Home is a “feeling” that I experience in many places where I am just another local. I’m a very proud Catalan, but Finnmark is also a huge part of me. I’m a local here. But, when I visit my family in Barcelona I really appreciate socialising in Catalan, enjoying Catalonia with my family, discussing politics, going for long walks...
What characterises your local neighbourhood?
Hesseng, with its population of 1,700, is a small town in the county of Sør-Varanger. Kirkenes, which is four kilometres away, is the main place; a city of just 3,500. What defines us more than anything is the melting pot we are made up of, the border with both Russia and Finland, the ore mine and the huge influence World War II had here. With just about the same number of inhabitants back then, the Kirkenes area was invaded by over 100,000 soldiers from Nazi Germany. When war was over, this was literally “terra cremada” [scorched earth], as we say in Catalonia. In the last 100 years a lot has shaped this land.
What is the best experience you’ve had in your adoptive country?
Now almost 25 years ago, falling madly in love with my wife Siw Annie and having our kids Andreu and Núria.
Do you plan to go back to Catalonia?
I dream of a little house not far from the seaside in a small village somewhere when we retire, but the tranquility and security of Finnmark will be very hard to find in Catalonia. Here we rarely lock our houses and cars.

CATALANS ABROAD Hesseng (Norway)


Can you recommend a place to have lunch with friends?
We do have a few restaurants where you can taste the local cuisine, but those are mostly for tourists or special occasions. Here we enjoy local produce from hunting, fishing, or gathering. We don’t buy what we can get from nature. I would recommend getting some king crab or cured reindeer heart and enjoying it while watching the midnight sun.
Where would you have a special dinner for two?
In our cabin, but if you want me to tell you the name of a restaurant… that would be Aurora Restobar or Surf & Turf in Kirkenes or Bugøynes Bistro in Bugøynes. Now, that said, again: find a nice cabin or one of the many incredible spots and grill some local food and enjoy the spectacular views to be found everywhere.
When is the best time of year to plan a visit?
For the average traveller, winter can be too rough, and it is less brutal for most during the summer. Personally, I love the harsh winter or the snowy beginning of spring.
What do you take with you as a present from your new home when you go back to your own country?
I’ve lived in Norway for the past 18 years and I’ve been away from Catalonia for many more; home is now more here than there. Anyway, perhaps wild smoked salmon, Norwegian cheese and chocolate and Finnmark jewels are always popular, but mostly big hugs. Interestingly, here we can hug, as Covid has been quite marginal here.
What is the best kept secret about the area?
Almost every visitor complains about the weather in winter and claims it’s way too hard. But if you like winter and keeping active, then winter here is fantastic. Summers usually have a period of about three weeks of very warm weather. It’s an awesome destination to get away from the masses. Our best kept secret? I dare you to come and find it for yourself! I know from that day on, Finnmark will never leave your heart.
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