In Hawaii, everybody is everyone’s uncle or aunty or sistah or bruddah.

Not necessarily in a blood-related way but in a way that’s more a sign of respect toward one another. It’s like calling someone sir or ma’am, except less formal, and appropriately so, because it goes hand-in-hand with the laid-back ways of the islands.

It also shows a h3 sense of ohana (family) rooted deeply within the community and the culture. It extends beyond traditional bloodlines and implies a familial bond as a sign of endearment. Most would call this kind of extended family, hanai family.

There are no set rules on when we use “aunty” or “uncle.” Mostly, anyone older than us would be called that, especially if we don’t know them well (or at all, for that matter). For instance, when I’m surfing and need to know the time, I might ask the man next to me in the water, “Uncle, what time is it?” Obviously, he’s not my blood-related uncle, but out of respect, I address him as an uncle.

And this doesn’t mean they have to be like grandma-grandpa old to be aunty-uncle status. I’ll call my mom’s friend (who’s maybe 40-something), “aunty,” as opposed to calling her by her first name. People in Hawaii are so accustomed to hearing this tradition that it’d be weird if I called her, “Tammy” instead of “Aunty Tammy.”

Again, there are no set rules, but using “sistah” or “bruddah” works the other way around – when an older person addresses someone younger than them. So that uncle I asked the time for? He might respond, “It’s 10 o’clock, sistah.” Although, to be totally honest, I’d probably ask him in Pidgin first: “Uncle, what time stey?” To that he’d reply, “Stey 10 o’clock, sistah.” Gotta love that Hawaii dialogue!

Still, that doesn’t mean we call every Jane and Joe on the street “aunty” or “uncle” or “sistah” or “bruddah.” There’s still that sense of extended family, or loose affiliation. With that being said, I wouldn’t recommend tourists calling everyone they meet in Hawaii, “aunty” or “uncle.” Maybe just people you feel comfortable with.

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