Hawaii is an incredibly diverse state both in terms of culture and climate, making it a dream destination around the globe – sometimes frustratingly so, as stereotypes of surface-level tourism often outshine the deeper beauty. *Also published on HuffPost Hawaii.
This means that outsiders who move here, like myself, try so hard not to come off as “haole” as we strive to earn a kamaaina title. But, sometimes we put way too much pressure on ourselves to fit in and we forget to laugh off our Mainland tendencies. I say own it, stay proud of your roots and embrace the new lessons that take time to learn in Hawaii nei.
Below are 24 of my most haole moments that I’m not ashamed to share:
- Are those storm clouds in the distance? When I first visited Oahu – well before deciding to move here – I had never seen mountains before. Upon landing in the evening and first seeing what I now know are the Koolau mountains, I asked my then-boyfriend if those were intense storm clouds in the distance. You know that’s a haole moment when another haole laughs at you.
- Being completely dumbfounded over street names: This started during the embarrassing first visit mentioned in No.1 above, in which my first sighting of “Likelike” and “Kalanianaole” brought giggles and toddler-like tongue twisters. This was a lesson that carried into the first few months of living here, and I’m definitely not alone in this one – classic newbie mishap.
- Never turn your back on the ocean: I never thought this would apply to me because I don’t swim in the ocean. I am not a strong swimmer, and so I’ve never tested this limit of mine. I quickly learned that this rule applies to even shallow dips after I faced away from an approaching wave at Waimanalo Beach in hopes it would wet my hair and cool off my back. This powerful 3-4 foot wave knocked me face-forward in the sand. Yeah, I got a few laughs.
- Thinking “Shootz” meant the same as “Darn!” Ahh, learning pidgin is so fun. But don’t use it when you don’t understand it. I finally figured out after one too many mis-uses that it’s not the same as it means on the Mainland, as in “Darn!” It’s a happy phrase used to reaffirm something with enthusiasm.
- Saying yeah after everything: It can start to catch on, yeah? But when you’re clearly not from here you just look silly, yeah!
- Buying anything that says Aloha: At first, I was so easily swooned by coffee mugs with the island chain, seashell jewelry and anything branded with Aloha. I was basically stuck in tourist mode for the first 6 months. In time, I learned how to embrace nautical, beach decor without having to buy things that screamed “HAWAII!”
- Not really understanding how to give or receive a Hawaiian lei: There’s an etiquette to it that takes a few practice rounds for those of us who’ve only ever seen lei greetings in the movies. Hey, no shame in asking others what the etiquette is, and the good news is it’s pretty simple. Perhaps my most common violation is more on the receiving end, wearing it entirely in front rather than half on my back, half in front. I also quickly learned that you should not wear a closed lei if you are pregnant – it should be open!
- Getting lost any time I ask for directions from a local: Everything is either “Mauka,” toward the mountains, or “Makai,” toward the ocean. Yeahhhh, so what if like I can see both the mountains and the ocean right now? It doesn’t help that I am not one with a strong directional sense.
- Pronouncing Punahou, “Puna-hoo:” In Hawaii, where you attended high school is a big deal. Mainlanders don’t quite understand this, but in time, you quickly learn the big names, like Punahou. In talking to local alumni, I’d sometimes add a totally unnecessary extra “O” sound at the end. This is less haole then my husband, though, who just asked what Punahou was as he overlooked me writing this entry (and he’s been here longer than me).
- Posing for selfies with palm trees: As I look back on old photos, I’m appalled at how many photos I have with palm trees. In reflection, the palm tree was a symbol of paradise to me that I just couldn’t believe had finally become a reality. My only other experience in a tropical climate was visiting Florida as a kid, of which the palm trees always fascinated me. I guess it was a fascination that carried into adulthood, but it surely made me look ridiculous.
- Hyperventilating over rainbows: Okay, I still do this. And if it’s a double rainbow? Forget it. My whole day is made and my Instagram has been updated.
- Refusing to try spam: No offense, it just gets such a bad rep where I’m from and this has surely tainted my taste buds for it. No can.
- Taking close-ups of geckos, snails and chickens: Because where I’m from, we see spiders, grasshoppers and squirrels. These are way cooler to us.
- Pronouncing Honolulu as “Hana-lulu” instead of “Hono-lulu:” I’m still guilty of this. But so are most people around me, even some who were born here – but I won’t say names!
- Loving anything Taro but not really being able to explain what it is: It’s simply amazing. Taro chips, taro pancakes, taro burgers. I’m just going to outsource this explanation to a more reliable source: “What is Taro.“
- Having to Google search what “Girl’s Day” is. I received a staff email at the office announcing donuts in the break room for “Girls Day.” Yeah, this isn’t celebrated in Ohio. I was the only one who seemed perplexed by this email as I quietly googled it. This tradition is celebrated in Hawaii more so by Japanese and Okinawan families. Check it out.
- Holding little knowledge to the various cultural differences between Japanese, Chinese, Korean, Filipino: Whether it’s not picking up light-hearted jokes or not being able to guess ethnicity like locals can, it grew clear to me that I was guilty of lumping Asian cultures under one umbrella, which is wrong. Just as my Russian heritage is very different from the Italian in me, someone’s Korean roots trace a very different story than their Japanese roots. Learning the cultural differences over time has been so enlightening. Hey, it certainly goes both ways though, as being a caucasian blonde here means everyone assumes I’m Irish(I’m not), or they just call me European and ask if I’m Kristin Bell (Or insert other blonde actress).
- Wearing high heels Monday-Friday. In Hawaii, business wear is a little more casual than on the Mainland, which means dress sandals and flats are popular choices for long workdays. Still, I’m that girl running around in 4-inch heels. And I love it.
- Sending macadamia nuts to everyone back home as Christmas gifts: I mean, it’s not a bad gift, but it’s also what you’ll find in every tourist’s take-home bag. In time, I learned that there are other staples of Hawaii beyond the obvious Kona coffee and macadamia nuts – staples that I will need people to send me when I move to Maryland in the near future. (See #15: Taro).
- Calling shave ice “shaved ice.” Yeah, it’s just shave ice. I know, it feels grammatically weird with shave commonly used as a verb. Once you get your ice that has been shaved, why wouldn’t it be called shaved ice? Well, because that’s just the way it is.
- Emphasizing how my dog is from the Big Island as if he can score local points for me. No actually, I didn’t have to endure Hawaii’s Animal Quarantine Law for Mainland animals; my dog is a local boy from the Big Island! No really, I love that my fur baby was born here. Is this weird, and does this make him more local than me?
- Turning to Facebook for identification of common Hawaii bugs: Cockroaches that fly? Centipedes that bite? Termite or ant?
- Asking what the Pipeline is. I don’t swim in the ocean, which means I haven’t taken up surfing. This has made for some awkward conversations with surfers especially since I don’t hold any questions back. “Wait. What’s the Pipeline?” Oh, just a famous surf reef break on the North Shore, not that anyone else needed an explanation other than myself.
- Going through a pineapple phase: If you order your drink out of a pineapple and you live here, you better be on staycation and intentionally playing tourist. If you order pineapple on your pizza, you better realize that doesn’t make it a staple of Hawaiian cuisine. But you’re totally allowed that awkward interim phase where you go a little crazy with the pineapple, just make sure you grow out of it. Oh, and don’t Instagram a pineapple before double checking that it’s not a hala. I just recently made this mistake, but I mean, the two look very similar. I will also admit that I can only pinpoint about three flowers: sunflowers, lilies and hibiscus, so I’m not to be trusted at identifying plants and fruits at all (but if you share your knowledge with me I will love you for it).
These are funny now because I realize how far I’ve come in three short, unforgettable years. I’ll never earn “local” status no matter how embedded I may become – and that’s totally fine. I’m from Ohio after all, and I’m proud to boast all about my Midwestern roots to locals who ask me if the state is all farmland (no, it’s not), what snow is like (it’s amazing), and if I ever saw a tornado (No, not unless you count a funnel cloud).(See my other blog on what Ohio is really like).
These cultural exchanges make life interesting, and where we lack in knowledge is simply an opportunity to grow. Thank you Hawaii, for being patient with me as I stumbled through these 24 mishaps that, over time, have taught me so much and truly enriched my life. Any time you’d like to venture to Ohio, I’d be happy to show you around the state that boasts the birthplace of Aviation and introduce you to some delectable chocolate buckeyes.