Edited to add: I first wrote this post in 2005, when I was living in Hawaii and noticing a lot of the same things that tourists did over and over. These days, 2012, I live in Alabama and I write books for a living. But I seem to get a lot of hits on this post, so I wanted to explain when it was written and why. Basically, it was a tongue-in-cheek look at the ways tourists stand out — with some real advice in there too. Do NOT turn your back on the ocean. And wear sunblock. Very important!
In no particular order:
1. Rent a Chrysler Sebring. Yep, it’s a convertible, and yep, you’re enjoying riding around with the top down, but I’m 99% certain you ain’t from around here. Wanna go local? Rent a Jeep. You can still take the top off.
2. Wear matching Aloha outfits. In very loud prints. That say “Hawaii” on them. Locals don’t usually wear his ‘n’ hers duds. Aloha attire is gorgeous and yes, we wear it here, but if it comes from a hotel gift shop and it’s really cheap, chances are it looks like something a tourist would wear. Want the real thing? Tony Bahama, Kahala, Tori Richards labels to name a few. They aren’t cheap. They are gorgeous. Best deal on Aloha shirts for men? Goodwill, I kid you not. And yes, Hilo Hattie’s has the real stuff.
3. Wear shoes. If you’ve got close-toed shoes on, you probably aren’t from around here. We wear flip-flops, otherwise known as slippers (or slippahs in pidgin). Tennis shoes are for jogging. Men may wear shoes to the Symphony, but women will still wear open-toed heels. I avoid shoes at all costs. I have worn knee-high boots to Borders in the winter, but that place is COLD. I also wore a wool blazer and a long skirt. Which brings me to another point.
4. It’s winter (roughly Nov-Mar), 70 degrees, windy, and it’s raining. You’re wearing shorts. You are NOT from around here. We get cold in winter. We wear jackets and jeans. We turn our AC off (if we have it; you’d be surprised at the amount of places that don’t). We even wear sweat shirts. Brrr! If you are a true Hawaiian, as in an indigenous person and not a haole transplant like me, none of this applies to you.
5. Two words: white skin. If you’re coming to Hawaii for a vacation, invest in a self-tanner first. Please. The glare off your white legs is killing my eyes. And, heck yes, I committed the same faux pas when I first arrived, which is why I am in a position to tell you this.
6. It’s dusk, or dark, and you’re splashing in the ocean in Waikiki. There’s a reason it’s called feeding time, you know. Strange creatures like to prowl the ocean in the dark and they are usually doing so because they are hungry. Remember this when you get that urge to plunge into the warm Hawaiian waters at night.
7. You turned your back on the ocean and now you’re a) being dragged out to sea or b) you just got soaked by that massive wave. Never turn your back on the ocean. Never, ever. It does not behave the same here as in other places you may have been when you had Aunt Bessie take your picture on the beach. Especially don’t do this in winter on the North Shore.
8. You just ordered a sno-cone from the nice ladies at Matsumoto’s Grocery Store. It’s not a sno-cone, it’s a shave ice. And Matsumoto’s really does have the best ones evah (Haleiwa, North Shore, Oahu). No sno-cone on earth looks like a real shave ice. Shave ice is fine, fine, fine.
9. You’re lying on the beach and you’re beet red. Locals know the sun is strong. Us lighter skinned locals wear sunblock (and maybe the dark-skinned ones too, but I can’t speak for them). Notice when you go to the beach the people who have big canopies set up under shady trees. Locals. Notice how they stay in the shade, too.
10. That puzzled look on your face when you ask directions and someone tells you to go mauka three miles, makai for a block, and turn left. Aloha ain’t the only word you need to know when you get here. Mahalo is a good one (thank you). Mauka and makai are pretty necessary too, especially if you plan to venture away from Waikiki and need to ask directions. On Oahu, we have two great big landmarks that you cannot miss. One is the mountains (mauka). Two is the ocean (makai). If someone tells you to go mauka, drive toward the mountains. If they tell you makai, go toward the ocean.
Okay, that’s the ten I could think of off the top of my head. This is from the perspective of a transplant. I’ve lived here for a year and a half now and I’m still learning. 🙂 And I didn’t mention taking pictures of everything because, heck, you’re supposed to do that. I still do it, though not as much.
Aloha nui loa.