I was super bummed. When someone asked me to “introduce the real Hawaii” to them while I was in my hometown, Hilo, I took that job pretty seriously. I took my mainland friend to both sides of the island, made them try some local grinds, and showed them some of my favorite spots. But when those efforts weren’t recognized or appreciated in the way I wanted them to be, meaning they didn’t like the food, they didn’t want to do things that make the island epic, etc, I got disappointed. It’s not that I was disappointed at the person I was showing around the island, it’s just the fact that they didn’t experience Hawaii. They were just there, a person on the island.
Whenever I travel, I like to be a “knowledgeable tourist” (article on that coming soon!), meaning that I’ve done my research ahead of time. I’m not ignorantly traveling to a country or place and eating the same foods I’d eat at home, or stay in the hotel all day. And if I don’t know about the place, I’d usually have a local to show me around (like I did a lot when I was in Utah). I feel like you can’t appreciate a place if you don’t know anything about it, or if you don’t know what you’re looking for. I’m an advocate of wanderlust, but being someone consumed by wanderlust means to explore, appreciate, and, above all, experience things.
Being a Hawaii girl, I want people to experience Hawaii. I want them to taste the foods, appreciate the nature, and enjoy the places and things that are near and dear to my heart. But what I quickly learned through talking to people about Hawaii or showing my mainland friends around, is that when people visit Hawaii, they don’t always want that… they want the experience that they’ve seen in movies and in magazines. They want the pineapples and straw hats, the fire dancing and roasted pigs.
And that’s ok. I learned that I have to be ok with that, because I realize that some people do save up their whole lives to visit Hawaii, and that their vacation there is the epitome of years of hard work and sacrifice. So why shouldn’t they be able to live and experience their “ideal” Hawaii? While I was disappointed, I did learn a valuable lesson that it’s not about my expectations of what a place should be to someone. A place is just a place, and you get the experience out of it that you want.
But at the same time I thought it would be fun to make a list of the difference in expectations between locals and tourists. This might help both Hawaii locals and tourists understand each other a little better, and, especially for locals, it might help shed some light on the mentality of tourists and help us to not get upset (or disappointed, or irritated, or maybe I’m the only who it starts to nag on) whenever our expectations of Hawaii don’t exactly match up with a tourist or visitor’s expectation!
Local Expectation: We looooooove our Hawaiian food! Poi, laulau, kalua pig, lomi salmon, chicken long rice, sweet potato, haupia… the list could go on and on. That is an authentic Hawaiian plate. Let’s not forget to mention some other local favorites that we might want anyone to try that wants an authentic Hawaiian experience: poke bowl, sushi, pancit, bentos, musubi, and mochi.
Tourist Expectation: Anything that has to do with tropical fruits is basically “Hawaiian” so pineapple, mango, coconut, lilikoi, guava, and, of course, papaya (it’s kind of funny because most locals don’t even like papaya). From what I’ve observed, tourists also seem to like roasted pig or ham, which kind of reminds me of “Hawaiian” pizza. Fish tacos and seafood, like crab, shrimp, or lobster, are also things I’ve seen tourists order at restaurants.
Local Expectation: To the locals, hula is a big deal, and it requires hard work. To us the terms of auana, kahiko, and halau are words we use to describe and understand the art and form of hula dancing. It is not a sport but an art, an expression used to preserve and keep the stories of our ancestors. In Hilo, especially, we are proud to host the Merrie Monarch, the biggest hula competition in the world. Hula dancers wear costumes representing traditional outfits and, to be completely honest, they aren’t always flashy.
Tourist Expectation: Fire dancing, haka, booty-shaking, coconut bras—while all of this is good entertainment, that’s just exactly what it is. Entertainment. This, I feel is what the tourists want to see, and I think it’s pretty cool. It’s exotic. It’s exciting. But it’s not authentic. I honestly think a local would rather take a visiting friend to a family party or luau.
Local Expectation: Pidgin English all da way. We actually do speak English in Hawaii, even though most of us get one slang. There’s also Japanese, Tagalog (and many other Filipino languages), Micronesian, Samoan, Tongan, Hawaiian, etc.
Tourist Expectation: If it’s an ignorant tourist, they might be surprised that everyone speaks English and not all Hawaiians speak Hawaiian.
Local Expectation: Whenever I go back home, I love the diversity of people: Chinese, Japanese, Hawaiian, Filipino, Caucasian, Portuguese, Samoan, Tongan… the list could go on. We are a mixture of ethnicities, and we love it. We’re halo-halo!
Tourist Expectation: Everyone is brown and local. #rudeawakening
Local Expectation: Everyone is really chill. It might be our go-with-the-flow island attitude or it might just be that life’s too short to get huhū over anything for too long.
Tourist Expectation: I honestly don’t really know what tourists expect from the culture. I think it could be something along the lines of everyone saying “Aloha” when they greet each other or wearing aloha shirts and leis. I’m not a tourist of Hawaii, so this one I couldn’t figure out, and from my observations of tourists, I can’t tell what they’re thinking in terms of cultural expectations. #whatdoyouthink
Local Expectation: Sunny with 50% chance of rain. Or sunny and rainy. Actually, honestly, the weather is any kine.
Tourist Expectation: Perfect, sunny weather 24/7. I’m so sorry but it’s really not perfect weather all the time! 🙈
What are some local expectations and tourist expectations that you know of, whether you’re a Hawaii local or a tourist visiting the islands? Comment below or check out my Facebook page!