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.