Whether you're attending class, going to a party or having a hard time saying no to street preachers, at some point you will have to talk to someone you don't know. The likelihood that it may be someone from Hawaiʻi is slim (because they'd need a really good reason to not be in Hawaiʻi), but the fact is: it could happen. And when it does, you need to be ready.
If the thought of talking to a Hawaiian or someone from Hawaiʻi seems anxiety-inducing, scary or hard, you're in the right place. Learning how to speak to a Hawaiian or someone from Hawaiʻi will change your life.
Don't freak out:
- Yes, living in the middle of an ocean far away from the continent is soooo cool, but drawing attention to someone because they are from Hawaiʻi or because they are Hawaiian isn't the solution. It probably won’t change the conversation as much as you think it would.
- For example, you ask someone, "Where are you from?" The person you are talking to responds with "Hawaiʻi." Your heart rate goes up. You're eager to ask them a million questions. You want to call your mom and tell her you met someone from Hawaiʻi. But no. You must stay calm. Breathe in and breathe out. Remember, this is only the first step.
Take a hint:
- Picking up on verbal cues is an important part of communication with a Hawaiian.
- For example, you ask someone, "Where are you from?" The person you are talking to responds with "Hawaiʻi." You say, "Huh?" because you're not used to hearing it pronounced properly. They repeat themselves the same way they said it the first time. You realize they are from that state in the middle of the Pacific, so you say, "Oh, haw-why-yee?" They cringe. You realize you've been pronouncing it wrong your whole life. You carry on the conversation normally and remember to pronounce Hawaiʻi properly in the future.
- Assumptions force you into a closed mindset and stunt your growth. It can limit the conversation and create tension. Especially if you've formed assumptions about a place you've never been to or have only seen through the lens of a tourist. The best way to avoid making assumptions is to acknowledge when you don't know something and ask about it.
- For example, you think just because someone lives in Hawaiʻi, they have a good life. They don't have to worry about shoveling snow at six in the morning before they go to school. They don't have to worry about tornados or a surplus of American flags. But this is not necessarily true. Everyone has their problems in life. And one of Hawaiʻi's biggest problems is when foreigners make assumptions. Oh, and when someone accidentally sends a missile alert.
Don't ask stupid questions:
- When you don't know something, you should ask, but there is a line that you shouldn't cross. Avoid asking stereotypical questions that will make you look dumb. Here are some examples:
- Do you go to the beach every day?
- Yup. We have no other priorities.
- Do you live in grass huts?
- No. We live in normal houses. We even have electricity. In fact, the ʻIolani Palace had electricity before the White House. I know it's hard to accept that your country wasn't first, but it's true I swear.
- Do I need my passport to go to Hawaiʻi?
- Bro, just Google it. I don't know why you need to ask me.
- Do you ride a dolphin to school?
- Yes, gas prices are crazy.
- So if I live in Hawaiʻi, can I eventually be Hawaiian?
- Ethnicity doesn't work like that my guy. Being Hawaiian isn't the same as being Californian.
- How long are the bridges that connect the islands?
- Even if there were bridges, why would I know how long they are?
- Do Hawaiians really hate tourists?
- If I say yes, does that mean you'll cancel your trip?
- You guys need tourism right?
- No. What we need is our land back.
- How can you afford to live in Hawaiʻi?
- We can't.
- Should I go on the Barrett Hawaiʻi trip?
- Do you go to the beach every day?
- When talking to a Hawaiian, the temptation to reach for any knowledge you have about Hawaiʻi can be really strong but refraining from sharing such information will actually be better in the long run. They don't need to know:
- that you have a distant relative who lives there
- that ʻOhana means family (they probably already know that)
- that Moana or Lilo and Stitch is your favorite movie
- about your stupid vacation where you swam with sharks and had a spiritual awakening or got a dumb scuba diving license even though you live in a land-locked state, or that you went on a helicopter tour around the island then ate dinner at a "loo-ow," and then the next day you went hiking and ignored all the signs telling you to stay on the trail so you went off the trail and trampled over native plants and got stuck on a ledge and then forced a rescue team to waste time saving your a**, and then you ignored the flash flood warning signs so your friend got swept out to sea and you tried suing the state but failed because you're ignorant, and then you watched the most beautiful sunset in your life in Waikiki without rubbing in your stupid non-reef-safe sunscreen and then ended your trip with visiting the Pearl Harbor memorial... Like, do you want a ribbon or something?
- Or worst of all, that you either own a property there or quit your job to move to Hawaiʻi. Go back home.
Do some research:
- It may be beneficial for you to do some research before talking to a Hawaiian so you don't offend them. Here are some basic things you might want to know:
- Hawaiʻi is still illegally occupied by the United States.
- Captain Cook did not discover Hawaiʻi. He was a colonizer. And Hawaiʻi is still being colonized to this day.
- Jeffrey Bezos, Oprah Winfrey and Mark Zuckerburg are displacing Native Hawaiians.
- Your ABC Store Hawaiian shirt isn't actually Hawaiian. In fact, no Hawaiian shirt is actually Hawaiian. No, the pizza isn't either.
Watch your language:
- If you want to try your hand at pronouncing Hawaiian words, just know you will get it wrong. Here are some commonly mispronounced Hawaiian words:
- Aloha (it's pronounced uh-lo-huh, not aww-loww-haa)
- ʻUkulele (it's pronounced ooh-cooh-leh-leh, not you-kewl-lay-lee)
- Hawaiʻi (it's pronounced huh-vai-ee or huh-wai-ee, not haw-why-yee)
- Mahalo (it's pronounced muh-hah-lo, not mah-hey-low)
If you are still a bit nervous, that's okay! There's no point in building your confidence if it's just going to be destroyed again. But remember the key ideas: try your best to not make a fool out of yourself, the more you know and the less you say the better, and the experiences you've had on your vacation aren't unique. And, of course, quitting your job and moving to Hawaiʻi does not make you the main character, it just makes you ignorant.
Now get out there and put your skills to the test!
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Savannah Rose Dagupion is a reporter for State Press Magazine. She moved to Arizona from Hawaiʻi to study Journalism and Mass Communication at the Cronkite School.