General Hawaiian Etiquette

The customary way to welcome or congratulate someone is to present him or her with a lei, a garland of flowers (or other decorative items) strung together and worn around the neck. One puts the lei over the recipient´s head and if the relationship is close, gives the recipient a honihoni or a kiss. Lei are especially appropriate for high school and college graduations, birthdays, etc. Lei are also provided to keynote speakers and dignitaries at public functions (generally anyone with a public title, e.g. politicians, religious leaders, school principals). Children often appreciate candy or money lei. It is considered bad luck to throw a lei away. When the lei is no longer wearable, some people cut the string and cast the individual flowers into the ocean. Others may hang the withering lei somewhere inside or outside the house. A lei is love, and one doesn´t throw away love.

Older people may be called "auntie" or "uncle" by friends, neighbors, and even complete strangers. No blood relationship is implied. While "aunties" and "uncles" are often old family friends, it can also be appropriate to address an elderly stranger as "auntie" or "uncle." This is considered respectful but friendly. The use of formal titles such as "Mr." or "Mrs." feels cold and unfriendly to many island residents, although they are used with warmth for certain individuals in certain situations. Always refer to someone the way others your age refer to them unless that person requests otherwise. The etiquette involved in addressing persons older than you can be rather complex. For example, if you are middle aged and a child addresses an elderly person as "Aunty Ella," refer to that person as "Aunty Ella"; if the child refers to an elderly person as "Grandma" or "Tutu" (Hawaiian for grandparent) and no one refers to that person otherwise as "Aunty Ella," refer to her as "Grandma" or "Tutu." If you refer to her as "Grandma" or "Tutu" and they warmly tell you their name is Ella, immediately refer to them as "Aunty Ella." Always use such honorifics with elderly people older than you. This follows from the central cultural tenet in Hawaii of respect for your elders (based on Hawaiian and Asian cultural norms). Fellow middle aged people who are a few years older than you would much rather you call them by their first name with no honorifics (e.g. Greg). Children and those younger than you are also referred to by their first names; they will refer to you as "uncle" or "auntie."

Everyone is expected to remove his/her footwear before entering a home or other place of residence (Garages don´t count!). Place your footwear nicely by the side of the door as other footwear are placed at that house. Some homes, especially in areas that experience a lot of rain like Hilo have indoor places to put your shoes; take your shoes off outside the door then pick up your shoes when entering and place them where directed.

In most settings (with the exception of sporting events and concerts), it is considered rude to speak loudly or act as if one were entitled to special treatment. Politeness and reserve are considered to show good breeding. Etiquette demands that you be quick to offer an apology in all instances of misunderstanding and that you never talk about yourself at length or make boastful remarks about yourself. If complimented, politely deny that it is true and either deflect the compliment by complimenting another person in the conversation or even the person complimenting you himself. Otherwise end by thanking the person for the compliment after first denying it.

Comments are closed.