This is from a series of 6 articles written to help those new to Hawaii and visitors understand the subtlety of local culture. Especially when it comes to social interaction. “Aloha” is alive and well on the Islands. Tune in and take the time to understand the subtle, but I think, cool differences in these tight social networks.


One of the first things you’ll need to do is make new friends in Hawaii. Now of course there are common human social norms to follow in making new friends regardless of where you move so I won’t be covering that in this article, but rather I’ll talk about what is different about Hawaii’s cultural values that you’ll have to be aware of if you want to make great relationships that last a lifetime.

We’re talking about local families, not the others that just moved here like you

Let’s get some context here. You’re going to make friends naturally at popular hangouts and social gatherings. Some of those friends will be others just like you who moved here recently and are looking, just like you, to make new friends. The quality of those relationships will vary just like anything else.

I’m not talking about making those kinds of friends. The friends I’m talking about here are local families that have lived here for generations that treasure their inner circle. If you are fortunate enough to get welcomed into one of these families, there is even a word used to describe this relationship and that is to hanai (huh-nigh) which literally means “to adopt a child”. We’d say something like “I was hanai’d by that family”.

That’s what I’m referring to in this article – building the kinds of friendships in Hawaii that really feel like family – to be hanai’d into a family.

It’s not going to be easy to make new friends in Hawaii

First, you have to be OK with the fact that this is going to take time. People in Hawaii aren’t in a rush to expand their social circles and in fact there is a strong “cliquish” tendency to close ranks around small groups that one has known for decades.

I think it’s partly because we know that most people that recently moved to Hawaii are only going to be here for a short time such as military, corporate executives, temporary contractors, and of course tourists. We know those people won’t be here for long, so why should we invest our time in building a relationship with them when it’s going to go out the window in a short while?

It’s easy to make lot of friends with little depth

So what usually ends up happening, and you’re just going to have to be happy with it, is that you’ll make a lot of superficial friends at first. By “superficial” I mean folks that you probably meet at places you frequent such as work or school (whether it’s your school or your kid’s school).

You’ll know these are superficial relationships because you’ll enjoy each other’s company at the place you normally see them, but you’ll never get asked to come over to their house or get introduced to their personal circle of friends. That’s where the clickish behavior kicks in and getting to that circle is going to take a lot of time, if it happens at all.

But that’s OK. This is your first step. Before your relationship with them goes any further, they will need to feel you out, see what kind of person you are, and decide if you’re worth their time. You are a newcomer, and like nearly all of the “transplants” like you they’ve known before, it’s just a matter of time before you give up on Hawaii and move back home.

Next up: some of the best ways to make new friends

This is the first of a series of articles on making new friends. Our next article talks about some of the best ways you can find new meaningful relationships.