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Tips and tricks when visiting the Aloha State

Photo Credit: Crystal Yamasaki

Whenever you travel to a different place or state it’s helpful to spend some time looking into the local customs.

For example, in some countries giving things in even numbers – like a bouquet of a dozen flowers – is considered unlucky. In Russia an odd number of flowers are given for celebratory occasions whereas even-numbered bouquets like a dozen flowers are brought to funerals. In Japan not only do they take off their footwear in the house – they remove them before entering a dressing room. In China the oldest person is always greeted first as a sign of respect.

While you might not be mistaken for a local, here are some surefire ways to make sure you don’t upset or insult any friendly “kamaaina” (local residents) when visiting the Hawaiian Islands.

  • Bare Your Soles: This is a practice seen in many Asian households but can be easy to forget. When visiting a home in the islands you’ll find footwear either neatly lined up or piled up outside of the front door. The custom was started by Asian migrants from Hawaii’s early plantation days and has been adopted by many cultures throughout the islands. So when packing for the islands prepare to part with your platform sandals before entering.
  • Get Lei-ed: Chances are when in paradise, someone will gift you with a fresh, fragrant lei. Because lei are considered a symbol of affection and aloha, you should never refuse lei. If you must remove one for whatever reason (such as allergies) do so discreetly. If you’re the one doing the giving, keep in mind that there are different types of lei for men and women. Ask the local florist or lei shop what kind of lei is most appropriate. When giving lei to a hapai (pregnant) or nursing women give open lei, which are not tied closed. For pregnant women, a closed lei is a symbol of bad luck and is believed to symbolize the umbilical cord tied around the baby’s neck.
  • Leave Lava Rocks Behind. Lava – governed by the Hawaiian goddess, Pele – is considered sacred in Hawaii. While it isn’t against the law to take lava rocks or black sand (ground up lava) there are countless stories of visitors who have suffered any number of misfortune as a result of taking lava rocks off island. Leave well enough alone and find something else to remember your vacation by.
  • Drive with Aloha. When navigating your way down the highways and back roads of Hawaii remember to drive with aloha. In the islands not only do people keep “Hawaiian time” they drive on Hawaiian time. In many places the speed limit can be anywhere from 35 to 45 MPH – even on the highways – so getting somewhere can be a practice in patience. And when someone lets you into their lane or gives you their parking stall, roll down your window and throw them a shaka or wave.
  • Never Arrive Empty Handed. Whether you’re going to a potluck, picnic or simply stopping by someone’s house – in the islands we never arrive empty handed. Even if it’s a bottle of soap from your hometown, something cute you found in your hotel gift shop, or a bottle of wine to share, it’s a sign of respect to your hosts to bring a small token. Think of it like a party or potluck, no matter where you go.
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