As a local, whenever someone asks where you’re from, you usually experience two major emotions. On one hand you are proud of your heritage—you’re proud of your roots, your culture, and the islands you’re from. You take pride in the cultural talents you’ve developed and the relationships that you cherish back home.
On the other hand, however, you are cringing, knowing that when you say, “I’m from Hawaii,” it’s like opening the door to a wave of questions flooding in. While we love our mainland friends, it’s sometimes annoying to explain ourselves, especially when we shouldn’t have to. Sometimes people just try to make small talk because they don’t know how else to approach someone from a place so far and so exotic—after all, Hawaii is known for being paradise.
However, there’s a lot more to these questions than meets the eye. If we can move beyond the “Do you live in grass shacks?” question and let that rest in peace, here are some of the more common questions locals on the mainland get asked like… all the time. Whatever your reaction, these questions definitely reflect the stereotypes associated with being from Hawaii, and they can help educate everyone so we locals don’t have to keep explaining ourselves.
- Do you surf?
While most locals surf, that doesn’t mean everyone surfs. In fact, most locals will opt out a surfboard for a boogyboard or a pair of goggles and a spear. If you’re a girl, you might even prefer sunbathing and dipping in the water to cool off. Just because we’re from Hawaii doesn’t mean we surf… and if we do surf, then no, not all of us surf everyday. We have to make a living—it’s expensive to live in Hawaii, you know?
- Do you dance hula?
If you’re a local who doesn’t actually dance hula, then this is kind of a sore spot. Most locals know how to dance hula or some other Polynesian form of dance, so this is an easy question to answer. It’s certainly a plus if you can dance hula, but there are other things that make locals local.
- Do you speak Hawaiian?
If you answer yes to this, the worst part is the follow up question, “Can you say something in Hawaiian?” Because if you do say something in Hawaiian, they either stare at you in admiration, or they snicker and say, “That sounds funny,” which is so hurtful! If you answer no to this question, they look at you in disappointment, as if you’re not a local. In your mind, you’re probably thinking, Brah, I no need speak Hawaiian—I’m one local. I speak Pidgin English! And so don’t worry! Most locals have to code switch from Pidgin English to proper English in order to fit in and communicate with mainlanders, but the best part is that when you are with your local friends (or talking to your mom on the phone), the real Pidgin comes out and you remember how local you are.
- Are you Hawaiian? How much Hawaiian?
The cool thing is that locals come in all colors, shapes, and sizes. For a local who doesn’t have the stereotypical Hawaiian look–or who isn’t a native Hawaiian at all–don’t worry. We know you are a local. For the Hawaiians, you know who you are and you don’t need to prove it. If you’re hapa like me, people usually tell me I don’t look Hawaiian. But who cares? You know you’re Hawaiian and that’s that!
- Where are you from? Which island?
This secretly cracks me up because people who ask this question usually have no idea what they’re talking about. I don’t know why they ask the question because, unfortunately, some people don’t know the state of Hawaii is composed of a chain of seven islands (or eight depending on how you count them). Whenever I say where I’m from, I know it’s time for a geography lesson. “I’m from the Big Island,” I’ll say. If the person is kind of ignorant, they probably didn’t know that “Honolulu” is a city and not an island, and then they get even more confused because the Big Island is actually called Hawaii too. “Which one is that?” they ask me. “The big one,” comes my smart reply, and then the geography lesson commences.
- Can you make Hawaiian food?
Yes, I can–and most locals can, but if mainlanders want to try our foods, just be prepared for the simple local foods like Spam, eggs, and rice, or loco moco. Our resources for local foods are limited to whatever we can get our hands on!
- Can I come visit you?
People seem to assume that because you’re from Hawaii, you are their best friend and they can expect—or worse, demand—that you help them out on their next adventure to paradise. This is a fun question if you like that person, but when it’s a total stranger, this question turns things awkward pretty quickly as you say “Uh, I guess.” Also, you’re on the mainland right now, obviously, so when you go home to visit, the time you are there is like SOLID GOLD.
- Do you have family I can stay with when I go?
You love your family, but you’re not going to put them in this predicament. It’s so awkward when people ask this question, especially if you don’t know them very well. It’s worse if you’re starting to get to know someone and they say something like this. It’s like they’re not genuinely interested in you. Maybe they are, but this question comes off as an awkward user and abuser type of question. The way I see it, if you want to go to paradise, you gotta pay the price!
- Do you guys go to the beach everyday? Or walk to the beach?
This is almost as bad as the “Do you live in grass shacks?” question, because no, we all don’t go to the beach everyday. And no, we all don’t walk to the beach. If you live on the beachfront, then you’re more likely to walk and spend time on the beach everyday. If you’re like me and you live on the mauka (mountain) side, the sun and sea are definitely a weekend vacation. In the busy lives we have, even getting to the beach is a feat in itself. Sadly, I know lots of locals who visit the beach maybe three or four times a year… if they’re lucky. Just because we live Hawaii doesn’t mean we go beach everyday. It’s like the surfing question—we gotta make a living too you know!
- You left the islands for this? You came here by choice? Why don’t you live there?
I don’t know about other locals, but any of these three questions always makes my heart sink a little. The reasons we locals leave are different and varied, but just because we leave doesn’t make us miss Hawaii any less. Just because we leave doesn’t make us any less local, or cultured, or native. We love our islands, but our lives have called us to other places. The beautiful thing about being local is that we can always go back, and we always keep the special spirit of Hawaii in our hearts.
So now that you know the questions… you gotta appreciate this…
The list could probably go on and on. I can recall numerous times people have tried to talk to me just because of where I’m from. When I was in high school and went to a Cross Country meet in California, the people hosting the meet donned fake flower leis, straw hats, aloha shirts, shorts, and slippers. They wanted to make us feel welcome, and I can’t blame them—what else could they do? They didn’t know any better. From all these experiences, I just appreciate it when people try.
We should appreciate the efforts people make to get to know us better and, likewise, ask questions to better appreciate the places we currently live. I’ve met many people who moved to Hawaii and absolutely hated it because they never learned to appreciate the life, the culture, and the food of the islands. As I’ve moved all over the world and have been asked these types of questions (even from highly intelligent individuals), I learned that it’s best to just enjoy where you are and the people you are with, even when they ask questions—you don’t have to prove anything, and don’t let the stereotypes get to you.
So next time you’re asked any of these questions, just remember that you’re not alone, and that there are ways to enjoy the place you’re at in order to keep the aloha spirit alive.
Is there a question you are frequently asked when you tell someone you are from Hawaii? What is your reaction? Share in the comments below!