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When on vacation anywhere, the quality of your stay is determined in large part by the quality of your interactions with the people you meet. It is no different here in Hawaii, and an overwhelming majority of visitors finds that Hawaii residents are quick with a smile, friendly, and kind. The best way to find this out is by knowing a few things about the “locals.”
First, remember that you’re on vacation (even if you’re working). People in Hawaii truly are more relaxed than their mainland counterparts. “Hawaiian time” is real. Hawaii residents tend to be more patient, and people who are impatient are obvious. People you meet here are much less likely to open up to someone they find unpleasant from the get-go. Relax. You’re in paradise. We want you to enjoy yourself. We probably are.
It’s also good to know what a “local” is, because in Hawaii not all residents are locals. Traditionally, the term “local” is colloquial, generally referring to someone of Hawaiian or Polynesian ancestry. Caucasians are known as “haole” (how-lee). Although “haole” can be used in a derogatory manner, it’s mostly used as a harmless indicator. For example:
“See that guy over there?”
“The haole guy.”
The haole guy will take no offense. There’s a difference between being haole and so haole.
Expressing gratitude and generosity are important to everyone in Hawaii’s melting pot. People here notice when someone fails to say “please” or “thank you.” And no one visits a neighbor without bringing something along. Even many business meetings have potluck tables of homemade snacks and treats. So, offer the family next to you at the beach some of your picnic. Buy the guy or gal sitting next to you at the bar a round. More often than not, they’ll reciprocate.
Remember that it’s a different way of life out here. The myriad cultures that have come to call Hawaii home make for some unique practices. Some of us even put soy sauce on our French fries (gasp!). Take your shoes off when entering someone’s home. No one is going to steal your flip flops. It’s a universally understood part of the social contract. Also, if you don’t live here, saying “mahalo” instead of “thank you” is, well, cheesy.
And, perhaps most importantly, remember that Hawaii residents are proud to live here. Many of us are even a little sensitive to criticisms about our idiosyncrasies and peculiarities. Are you alarmed that a three-year-old girl is surfing by herself? No, she doesn’t have terrible parents. The child is likely a better swimmer than you. That cold octopus that makes you squeamish to even look at is a delicacy, and if you don’t try it, you’ll never know what you’re missing.
The surest way to have rewarding and memorable interactions with Hawaii residents is to go where we go. You won’t find many of us in a chain restaurant in Waikiki or Neighbor Island resort. Support locally owned and operated businesses and restaurants, because that’s what we do. You can get fast food or a new outfit at home. Embrace local culture, and be embraced.