GV Hawaii Adrift

Imagery and Language: Learning English; Adrift in Hawaii

Local Culture

Posted by Josh on October 28, 2008

Local Culture
Thanks to its convenient position in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, not to mention its tropical beauty, Hawaii has attracted people from a vast array of ethnic backgrounds. This has earned its moniker as “the melting pot of the Pacific,” merging the kama’aina into their own unique culture.

One of the first things newcomers notice is the way locals speak – their inflections and their slang. Many locals speak pidgin, a special dialect that originated in the old plantations blending Chinese, Japanese, Hawaiian, Portuguese, Filipino and English words into a new concoction of colloquialisms.

Pidgin is more than just words; it’s a relaxed way of talking. The first step to understanding pidgin’s vocabulary and how to use it, however, can be learned through books such as Pidgin to Da Max or the Da Kine Dictionary. Online instruction is also available through Web sites like http://www.extreme-hawaii.com/pidgin.

In addition to dialect, locals have a different way of giving directions. Instead of using north, south, east, and west, expect to receive (and give) location advice using mauka (toward the mountains), makai (toward the ocean), Ewa (west) and Diamond Head (east).

Local CultureWhen driving, giving and receiving the aloha spirit is always appreciated. It’s been noted that Hawaii drivers tend to let others merge into their lanes easily, and drive at a more relaxed pace than the mainland. Allowing pedestrians to cross the street completely before you make a turn, however, is not just being courteous – it’s the law.

One very important custom is to remove your footwear before entering someone’s home. Usually at parties you will see a myriad of shoes, sandals, and slippers strewn outside the door; follow suit and you will fit in perfectly. (By the way, they are called “slippers,” not flip flops or thongs.)

On that note: whenever you attend a party at someone’s home, especially a pot luck, don’t show up empty handed. If it’s not a pot luck, a form of food or drink for the host is always offered, even if it is not something they will consume at the party.

Everyone loves celebrations, but in Hawaii they go off with a bang. Chinese New Year, birthday parties, grand openings, the Fourth of July and especially New Year’s Eve spur strings of firecrackers – provided, of course, you have a permit. The idea behind firecrackers is to scare off any evil spirits so that you can be assured of good luck for your home or business for the coming year.

Speaking of spirits, don’t be alarmed if people speak of the supernatural and paranormal in casual terms. Local folklore, ancient myth, and cultural superstitions also bring Hawaii people together through common understanding. Don’t take lava rocks home; avert your eyes if you see a procession of drums and torches coming from the mountains; don’t stand your chopsticks in your rice, and always keep some Hawaiian salt in the house – not just for cooking, but to help with any metaphysical needs as well.

The most important thing to remember: relax, you’re in Hawaii. Share your customs with your neighbors as they share them with you, and you just may start a new tradition.


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