If you only remember one thing, this is it.
Hawaii’s culture is complicated. But there’s one thing that’s really, really important and this is it.
Be prepared to leave your shoes outside
One of the very first things you’ll learn about local culture in Hawaii is that we don’t ever walk in the house with our shoes on. Walk up to any home’s front door and you’ll see a bunch of slippers (BTW that’s “slippers”, not “flip flops”) outside.
When you go to your first house party, you’ll see a massive pile of slippers outside the front door. That’s a guaranteed sign of a good party.
While this is probably the most basic test of your cultural acclimation, you also simply cannot fail it. If you walk into someone’s house with your shoes on, they will probably say, “You can leave your shoes on!” out of hospitality but you should interpret that as saying, “take off your friggin shoes your friggin mainland haole!” and there’s a good chance that you’ve already self-identified as a typical mainland haole.
I’d also highly recommend you wear slippers to begin with. Look at what other locals are wearing and get something that matches. You’ll find nearly everyone wears the classic open design with thong wedged between the big and first toe. Don’t wear athletic shoes with socks – you’ll look silly taking them off at the front door, they will stick out from the piles of slippers, and who wears athletic shoes with socks when going to a Hawaii house party anyway? Only mainland haoles!
Summary of how to make friends in Hawaii
I’ll boil this down to a few key points on making new friends in Hawaii:
- You’ll make lots of superficial friends.
- Getting invited to an inner circle – i.e. getting hanai’d to a family, is a very rare occurrence.
- Talk less about yourself – do what you can to not talk about yourself at all.
- Learn about your friends – by asking them thoughtful questions about their lives.
- Give of yourself – help out at house parties – make it so that the host tells your friend to bring you back next time.
- Always bring food or a gift when invited to a home.
- Wear slippers and never walk in a house with your shoes on.
- Try not to be so haole.
This will be so — “not a problem”. Married to a Chinese-Indonesian for 21 years, shoes are never worn
inside. We have a big shoe rack next to the front door, plus a couple of stools in case someone needs to
sit, plus we have “guest slippahs” and coverings for people to slip over their shoes if they can’t take their
I would much rather listen to others talk. I am far more interested in learning about what others think, do
and experience than blathering about myself. I don’t learn anything by talking about “me”. If someone
wants to ask me something I am happy to do so, but I would rather hear about them and their experiences.
When it comes to going to someone else’s place, there are always certain rules we follow: We take something
to share (potluck) unless they explicitly tell us not to do so. We take something additional for the hosts. We
always ask if we can help(we have done a lot of gatherings ourselves so we know how difficult it can be for
the hosts). We try to stay late so we can help the hosts clean up at the end of the party. For sure we make
them know how much we enjoyed it before we take our leave.
Too bad, this year we have to cancel all parties :-(
Very cool Dan! Thanks so much for commenting.
So my wife had a foot issue where she has to wear shoes to provide a cushion, even to go to the bathroom. How would one culturally approach this?
good one! I would get a 2nd pair of house shoes that are only worn indoors. If possible, get a custom pair of slippers with the cushion. Then when you go to someone’s house, take off your outside shoes, and put on your house shoes. Do it visibly in front of the host who will invariably ask, “what’s that for?” and you can then have the chance to explain.
People here do wear house slippers, though rare compared to no shoes at all. The key thing is not to bring outside shoes into the house.