4 Common Newbie Questions And Answers To Help You Fit In When You Move to Hawaii

by | October 4, 2020 | Hawaii Island, Maui, Moving to Hawaii, Oahu

I receive MANY questions from people wanting to move to Hawaii and some are quite basic, like, “What do I need to bring and what should I leave behind?” and some are deeper questions about fitting into a new culture.  I may answer, “Bring a few jackets for those winter days you want to visit higher elevations.” But what you should bring with you is curiosity about learning and what you should leave behind is impatience and ego. Here we go.

Why Learn the Culture?

To learn about Hawaiian culture is to learn about respect for the land, ocean and the people. You may have heard that there is tension between tourists and locals in Hawaii. When you treat people with kindness and aloha, and try your best to remember the culture and customs here, you will see that the mirror of respect is returned.

It’s a pretty well known fact that when you show up in Paris, the locals can be downright rude when you have not shown the time and energy to learn French! This is not just a Hawaii experience, its an experience that shows up when you visit a place where the locals have a deep respect for THEIR OWN culture and language.

I’m not an anthropologist, but it’s like being invited to dinner at a strangers home. You may wish to ask what kind of food the host enjoys beforehand, or what is the custom of greeting or departing or the appropriate attire, or all the little things that make up culture, but can either leave the hosts with a feeling that you took the time to help make THEIR time comfortable and happy and not just what YOU took out of it. Get it?

Can you imagine inviting people into your home time and time again and each time the guests showed up less and less prepared to help make you feel better about inviting people over?

Waipio Valley Taro Farmer Story 

I had the good fortune of speaking to a taro farmer down in Waipio Valley. We had driven on the  county road, crossed the river and had parked to stand and peer into the back of the beautiful valley.  Well, as we were standing there with our visiting friends, the farmer/land owner approached us and let us know we were trespassing! (In as nice of a way as you can let people know that). We told him we were sorry and thought that we were on the County road. When he saw that we were truly sorry and apologized, he told us that he had had similar run in’s with less kind visitors who called him names and refused to move their Jeeps.

You can imagine why he wants the road blocked before the river. (Which I think he as done by now)  He also said he found photos on Instagram of male tourists standing on the birthing rock in the back of the valley near the waterfall where people are not supposed to go..he said he had never been there himself, as it was Kapu for men to be there. When he saw that we were shocked and equally dismayed, he told us a few more stories and we gained MUCH insight into why there is anger towards visitors who are not only ignorant of customs and trespass, but are downright rude to a local like that farmer. (KAPU means NO TRESPASSING)

Why Learn the History?

The Hawaiians are called the host culture. Many visitors come unaware that Hawaii has sensitivities that are quite alive in the people who still have strong ties to their ancestors way of life. When I first arrived here, I did not know the story of the overthrow of the Hawaiian kingdom. 

When you start to read, listen and learn, you get a very clear picture of what happened in the Hawaiian islands over the past few hundred years and how it may taint the perceptions of those whose ancestors went through it.  Learn more about customs, etiquette, tips for fitting in. 

ALoha in SandWhy Learn About Aloha?

As I shared in a recent book I wrote about moving here the first time,  I met a young Hawaiian man who shared with my husband and I that Aloha is a circle. You give kindness, respect, love and good energy to people (and the land!) and it comes back. You can not take more than you give or you break the circle.  One of the absolute treasures of these islands is the Aloha spirit -the kindness that permeates the culture. I have heard dozens of stories from my friends who live in the islands that when they go back to where they came from on the mainland, they notice that people are impatient, intolerant, rude, curt, and just sometimes mean.

Wouldn’t you want to preserve a way of life that just FELT GOOD? Young people greeting you by calling you Auntie or Uncle, people being courteous and actually going out of their way to help you if you need it and no honking! It’s a beautiful thing and it’s VALUABLE. And you HAVE TO SHARE INTO IT. So, when you get nudged by people who may have only lived here for a short time and have absolutely no Hawaiian genes in their body, it’s because the Hawaiians created a way of life that is worth preserving and teaching others about.

How Do I NOT Look I Just Got Off The Plane?

For a bit of fun, I had to throw this one in there. When greeting people as you pass them by, don’t shake your shaka! (The process of looking like you are “hanging loose, Hawaii” by twisting your wrist repeatedly) The way to do it is MUCH MORE subtle and you have to watch locals for awhile to really get how to “throw shaka”. Nothing says, “Newbie” more than this simple gesture. Locals do it in a way where it’s not twisting your wrist. Which goes to the larger concept of WATCH and LEARN. When COVID days are over, learning how to properly greet someone with a hug and kiss on the cheek vs sticking your hand out waiting for the handshake, is valuable, too. Also, get some color on your skin. Looking like you have actually spent some time in the sun here and have cast off that mainland whitish glow helps you fit in.

The author on Mauna Kea. DON’T leave an offering to Pele here.

Should I Leave An Offering to Pele To Receive Her Blessing?

I’m not sure if the Hawaiian Goddess Pele and her ability to test you during the first year you live on the island exists on the other Hawaiian Islands, but it is well known belief on Hawaii Island! There are ways to behave that help Pele believe you truly belong on her island. Giving back to the land, being honest and humble, doing something that helps the people and not breaking cultural rules are all things to keep in mind. Some people have their homes blessed when they purchase a property in Hawaii. (If you are in West Hawaii, I can give you a contact name) Some people go to stand at the caldera, Hale Mau’mau’ to ask Pele for her blessing.

I wanted to share this article with you about Hawaiian offerings--called Ho’okupu, to show you how people unknowingly can make cultural missteps about things even like leaving offerings for Pele at Volcanoes National Park. This from the article: “The most appropriate offering that any person can make can be made without any tangible item being left behind. The most perfect offering is one’s aloha, ha, and olelo. To love a place, and breathe out that love in the form of a spoken promise to cherish and protect it, that is the most perfect offering.” (The article also states that Pele lives in the active Kilauea Volcano, NOT Mauna Kea and there is a separate deity who rules the extinct volcano.)

Do you have the characteristics to make Hawaii home? Read my “6 Personality Characteristics Needed to Live in Hawaii” 

If you are considering a move to Hawaii Island, ask to join my Kona Newbies group on Facebook to ask questions of the hundreds of residents who have moved to the island in the past three years for some fantastic knowledge! We have a great forum and it’s a benefit I offer those who are serious about Aloha and giving back.

Eric and Julie Ziemelis provide a complimentary real estate match making service for people considering buying or selling a home in Hawaii. We connect you to our trusted, knowledgeable, and experienced agents. We also provide private Facebook groups to learn more about buying a home in Hawaii and living successfully and building community. Email us to learn more Julie@Ziemelis.com.