8 Things You Should Never Say to Hawaiians

February 11, 2015
8 Things You Should Never Say to Hawaiians

After growing up in Hawaii and moving from Oregon to Italy to Indiana, I’ve had to battle tons of cliches about my home state. I’ve gotten questions from “Did you live in a grass shack?” and “Do you eat pineapple with everything?” to “Do you have running water?”

There have been times when I was so fed up with these inquirers (also known as, damn haoles, which means a foreigner or someone who is not a native of Hawaii). But I’ve also learned to be patient. These people weren’t lucky enough to grow up in such an awesome place.

Here are 8 ways to piss off someone from my Hawai’i nei, beloved Hawaii:

8 Things You Should Never Say to Hawaiians

8 Things You Should Never Say to Hawaiians

1. Ask us if you need a passport to visit Hawaii

Believe it or not, I’ve gotten this question quite a few times. Before you plan your trip to Hawaii, please freshen up on geography and history. We’ve been a state for quite some time now, since 1959 in fact. 

2. Tell us how funny we pronounce words like “Hawaii,” “Mahalo,” “Aloha,” etc.

We live here. “Hawaii” is pronounced huh-vi-ee, because Ws are pronounced like Vs. Also, vowels are pronounced as follows:

A: “ah”
E: “eh”
I: “ee”
O: “oh”
U: “oo”

There are 13 letters in the Hawaiian alphabet, counting the ‘okina symbol as a letter. The ‘okina is the apostrophe mark and is a glottal stop/break in the word, which is very fast. There is also the kahako, which is a stress mark that appears only over vowels  and serves to make the vowel sound a little longer.

Mispronouncing the ‘okina or kahako can cause a change in how a word sounds, as well as its meaning.
Therefore, you pronounce those words funny.

8 Things You Should Never Say to Hawaiians

3. Littering is okay

Nothing upsets me more than seeing people trash our beautiful beaches or anywhere else for that matter. Because Hawaii is an island, your trash will end up in our oceans. Live and learn malama da aina (to take care of the land).

4. Everyone from Hawaii is actually Hawaiian

Hawaii is home to thousands of ethnicities. So many times I have been referred to as the “Hawaiian girl,” when in fact I do not have Hawaiian heritage. I’m Filipino, Japanese, Okinawan, Italian, French, and German. From the time we’re in elementary school, we learn to befriend people of every ethnicity and embrace the Hawaiian culture.

Huts on Hawaii.

5. Define “cold” for us

If we say we’re cold, then we’re cold. We don’t care if it’s 65° and you’re used to it being in the 20s. We don’t appreciate your constant reply of “Cold?! You don’t even know what cold is!”

In Hawaii, the lowest temperatures are in the low 60s, and anything below 74 is considered cold.  And that’s okay.

8 Things You Should Never Say to Hawaiians

6. That it’s okay to be a rude driver

Now, I know there are always exceptions to the rule, but in Hawaii most of us tend to just tro’ da shaka, or let someone into your lane. And we usually only honk to say hello to someone we know on the road.

7. That we spend all of our time at the beach

We have jobs, too. Just like any other place, people in Hawaii need to make a living, usually work 8 hours per day, deal with the insane cost of living, and sit through hours upon hours of pau hana (time after work) traffic, which is, by the way, some of the worst traffic in the U.S.

8 Things You Should Never Say to Hawaiians

8 Things You Should Never Say to Hawaiians.

And last, but not least, one of my favorites….

8. Asking us why we fly to the other islands when we can just … swim

Like, really?


8 Things You Should Never Say to Hawaiians

Related Reading

5 Reasons Why I Loved Growing Up in Hawaii
Visiting Hawaii: A Conversation with Connie Pearson
Maui Travel: 48 Hours in Paradise

Have you traveled to Hawaii? How was your trip? Email us at [email protected] for information about sharing your experience and advice with the Pink Pangea community. We can’t wait to hear from you!

Photo credits for 8 Things You Should Never Say to Hawaiians by Pixabay and Unsplash. 

About Caitlin Basilio

Caitlin Basilio is Pink Pangea’s Italy Corespondent. She is a writer by trade, traveler at heart, eater of all foods and avid wine-drinker by choice. She is a Seattle-based creative slowly making her way around the world.

15 thoughts on “8 Things You Should Never Say to Hawaiians

  1. Heidi Smith
    January 14, 2023

    I appreciate everything written here. I am from the Mainland and am going to Hawai’i for the first time soon. I know very little about HI and so all comments helped me. Thanks.

  2. H?k?
    October 23, 2022

    There are an abundance of generalizations and misinformation in this article and in the comments as well. I strongly encourage the author to edit this piece and include information regarding the illegal annexation of Hawai’i and how many Native Hawaiians (Kanaka M?oli) **do not** consider Hawai’i a part of the United States as the government was illegally overthrown. There have been apologies for this atrocity (Clinton in 1994), but it still makes Hawai’i becoming a US Territory and, subsequently, a state a fact that many K?naka are battling every day and have been for decades.

    The famous Native Hawaiian scholar and rights activist, Haunani Kay-Trask, passed last year, but many Native Hawaiians, Locals, and allies, regard and respect her highly. She was outspoken against US Imperialism and the US colonization of Hawai’i. Hawaiian lands were forcibly taken from the indigenous population.

    One can do a quick Google search and watch Trask on a 1990 television show. She responds to a caller who, coming from a place of harmful ignorance, inquires as to why K?naka “rally against the white man.”

    Trask had the perfect response for this caller and this is what ALL (especially those from Hawai’i, living/visiting Hawai’i, and Americans) individuals must learn.
    Trask said, “You think you are in America. You are not in America. You are in a colony that is in Polynesia that is forcibly taken, just as, I might add, all of Eastern Europe was forcibly taken by the Soviet Union, which Americans think is a very, very bad place, the bad, bad Soviet Union. Well, the bad, bad United States of America took Puerto Rico, it took Alaska, it stole Indian land, it took Hawai’i, it took Guam, took Micronesia, Pulau, and you had better learn that history because you are the recipient of an imperialist tradition.”

    Mahalo nui to Huanani Kay-Trask, and many other K?naka who are fighting this fight!!! Allies are more important than ever right now, especially with issues like the Thirty Meter Telescope construction. We need allies and supporters who are informed snd educated about stolen lands and sacred places.

    This article has some great information regarding ??lelo Hawai?i, the Hawaiian language, and is accurate regarding traffic woes, especially on O?ahu, Maui, and Kaua?i.

    However, it would be incredibly beneficial for all for the author to conduct some research and include information to help advocate for Native Hawaiians via this platform. Another important subject to discuss with readers is Ocean Safety.

    These are all topics many are trying to spread awareness about.
    Some great sources would be a few instagram handles that advocate for indigenous causes and provide tons of educational resources!
    @acluhawaii @kanakaautonomy @af3irmhawaii

    Mahalo for your time and attention to this comment.

  3. Sebastian
    July 26, 2022

    One of the things I love most is that living in Hawai’i (Hilo) has the conveniences of being part of the US, but we are more concerned in general with local politics and news than the crap that runs rampant in the mainland US.

    People are definitely ignorant of Hawai’i. I’ve had so many people from foreign countries be surprised when I tell them that I’m living in Hawai’i because they thought I told them that I was living in the US. Well, yes: it’s both.

    I love the Big Island and Kauai in particular, and I plan on living the rest of my life here, cost of living be damned. There is nowhere else I would rather be.

  4. Vince
    June 16, 2022

    I agree with Kare’s response. I have lived in the Islands over 60 years and have been immersed in many areas of the land, people, and culture. I’ve had funny things asked of me too, such as where to exchange American money for Hawaiian, but apparently I’m a little more relaxed than you. I believe in the beauty of the people who care for our Island home, who nurture it and sustain it. A little less bitterness and a little more aloha goes a long way. As someone wise once said, paraphrased, “there are more things about us that make us alike than those that make us different.” I have bumped into some of the best and some of the worst. Best are better! I believe if the same things stated in your column were said with a little more humor, the point would have been better received. Atrocities have occurred here that can never be forgotten or forgiven. Still, we’ve got to live with love in our hearts. Aloha pumehana! And mahalo nui!

  5. Kare Clayborn
    May 31, 2022

    Where is your Aloha Spirit? You write “(also known as, damn haoles, which means a foreigner or someone who is not a native of Hawaii).” And then write, “From the time we’re in elementary school, we learn to befriend people of every ethnicity and embrace the Hawaiian culture.” Then why continue to use a pejorative term? You say in your article you are not Hawaiian heritage. I have spent extensive time on three of the islands and was just transferred permanently there for work because I don’t have children. They could not send another employee there because the children and teens from the mainland are often treated so terribly in school. I think the lines between Hawaiian culture and the people’s personalities are generalized and often get blurred (Ha`aha`a). No matter what state we live in, we all get comments from others about weather, food, people etc. It’s not particular to Hawaii. I was told on a Zoom call from a colleague today that its not hot where I live so quit complaining (he is in Arizona and its 107 today in May). It seems in our highly sensitized world everyone gets offended at something. Hawaii is nowhere near the comparison of a congested city. I had to laugh out loud at that! (been to DC, Chicago, NY, Houston, or LA, lately?) Its not even close to one of the top ten high traffic areas. I have visited or lived in 42 states and there is stunning and unique beauty in all states and people.

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