“Almost pau”: Hawaii optimism

“Almost Pau” is a life strategy, a philosophy that is abidingly optimistic. “Pau” means finished, by the way, in Hawaii. Done. Over. In the past. “Almost pau” is a zen-like acceptance of the fleeting nature of minor inconveniences.

Pau hana” means work is done, literally, but it also embodies the time of day when we can relax into ourselves, free of the temporal troubles of working life. “Almost pau” is an expression of optimism.

I marvel at the power of the phrase “almost pau”. It offers hope. It promises an end to suffering, a world free of whatever discomfort a given moment or a given day may hold. It’s what gets me through airport layovers or other travel snafus that seem inevitable when I fly, despite my best efforts to prepare. (The airport bar helps for that, too.)

That rain on the parade? Passing. Almost pau.

I remember clearly the first time I heard the words “almost pau”. My hanai brother had just clocked me in the forehead with a wooden baseball bat (I remember that sound, too). I wasn’t paying attention. I had to show him a cockroach I’d found without noticing that he was practicing swinging a baseball bat. My bad, for sure. We were, maybe, five years old.

The nurse in the ER said, “OK, OK…Almost pau,” as she swabbed the welt over my right eye. I imagine I was sobbing. “The doctor’s gonna come in and fix you right up. You’ll be home for dinner,” she cooed. Six stitches.

Almost pau, brah!

“Almost pau.” The words were healing, right there in triage at Straub Hospital. The pain would end. I’ve never forgotten those words or how effective they were on a semi-conscious post-toddler a few decades ago. They calmed me then, and I use them now to muddle through. I find myself using them on family dogs who have kennel cough or IBS or whatever and need to be force-fed their medicine.

I say it to bartender friends in the middle of a rough shift, to friends enduring a move to a new place, to nieces and nephews struggling through what feels to them like a semester that will never end. “You’ll be a senior next year! You’re almost pau!”

Bad day? Almost pau.

“Almost pau” means that stress free moments are soon to come. It means that suffering is temporary, that sweet relief is just around the corner. It helps me be patient with awful drivers on the road, with rude shoppers at the grocery store. “This will end.” It’s a motto, a bumper-sticker, a t-shirt, an unironic coffee mug for the office (we guess, we work at home).

The opposite of almost pau is “What? Not pau yet?” It’s a not discrete way of saying, “I’ve put up with your nonsense for long enough.” People from Hawaii know well enough that the question is rhetorical, that no answer is expected. If you hear it, you have exhausted the patience of whomever asked it. And whomever asked it is likely to say “Almost pau” to comfort others. The end of unpleasantness is expected.

Bad day? Almost pau hana time!

We here at the HAT Blog would like to suggest to Hawaii visitors that embracing the concept of “almost pau” is a great way to truly “live aloha”. It encourages calm. It offers hope. It promises a better future. And we can all use some of that, no matter where we live.

There. All pau!

Posted by: Jamie Winpenny