The piece of thick cardboard, once a box, had been flattened and now served a second purpose — a makeshift cutting board.
Our Arctic-hunter host was preparing to perform a familiar ritual — at least for him. Lying on the cardboard was a dead seal, and I knew what was coming next. The hunter would carve up the carcass and offer each observer a portion of the raw meat.
It was difficult to watch the hunter slice through the seal’s fur, then scrape through the layers of flesh even though he did so with a prayer, offering thanks for the kill.
I had to keep telling my white-lady brain that living off the ocean’s bounty is life and religion for the Inuit who inhabit Nunavut, Canada’s far northern province.
I really, really wanted to take part in this ritual of hospitality — to eat the raw seal meat.
After all, the village hunting party had killed the seal just for us — but I didn’t want gastrointestinal issues to interfere with the remainder of our trip through the Arctic.
But I was grateful for the opportunity to see the world through the eyes of the Inuit and contemplate the miracle of their existence in this mostly inhospitable environment.
Seeing other ways of life and cultures is why we travel, but do we ever stop to consider how visitors to our country view our culture?
Here are some opinions about our way of life that come from friends, visitors and online comments. Some might be difficult to read, but here they are:
• From a Japanese visitor: Americans are friendly – maybe too friendly. Complete strangers greet you and the concept of small talk is intimidating. There is too much informality with authority figures and elders.
• From a Romanian: Americans have too much choice. The vast quantities of products for sale is overwhelming.
• From a Norwegian: People have too much stuff and people eat too much stuff. I’m shocked at the obesity.
• From a Spaniard: Too many fast food restaurants and everything has sugar in it.
• From several foreign visitors: We can’t believe stores are open Sundays and some 24 hours.
• From a Parisian: I don’t like self-serve everything — gas, checkout, frozen yogurt; carrying one’s luggage into hotels. And why no bidets?
• From a South American: I was pleasantly shocked at how many free services are provided in schools.
• From a Czech: The food portions are so huge, but I like free refills, free condiments, free bread and free chips and salsa.
• From an Italian: It’s strange that motorcycles are used mostly for recreation, not transportation.
• From many foreign visitors: The United States has so much open country, vast space and diversity of landscape.
• From a Mexican: When people say, “How are you?” they don’t really want to know how your life is going. It’s really just a way of saying hello.
• From several Europeans: Free public toilets are a good thing but they are often not as clean as our public toilets. We like all the public water fountains, too.
• From an Austrian: Outside of a few big cities in the United States, there is a lack of efficient public transportation. You often need a car to go anywhere, and the cars are big.
• From an Indian: It’s amazing the way traffic behaves without any intervention from traffic policemen.
It’s orderly; everyone following the rules.
• From a Brit: Your hotels are cheaper and they offer so many free things: breakfasts, Wi-Fi, parking.
• From an Italian: Who eats dinner at 6?
• From a New Zealander: Guns. Not good.