Help a haole
October 19, 2007 11:52 AM   Subscribe

How do I not be an obnoxious mainlander while vacationing on the Big Island?

I'll be sharing a big vacation house south of Hilo.

Advice in general would be appreciated. Advice on surfing etiquette would be appreciated.

Also, should I bring any foodstuffs with me? I hear some of the staples are expensive and not great.

Also, I'm not going until next July, but if you live there and I can bring you something, feel free to ask. I know you Hawaiians get reamed on shipping charges. I'll probably post a reminder on when my trip gets closer.

Yes, I'm probably making a bigger deal out of this than it deserves, but I don't vacation often. And my step-dad was big on the Hawai'ian independence movement, so I'm ambivalent about foisting my mainlander self on Hawai'i at all.
posted by small_ruminant to Travel & Transportation (12 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
Visit the Hilo Farmers' Market, Wednesdays and Saturdays. Lots and lots of fruits & veggies that you can't get in stores on the mainland, and buying local will help you alleviate the need for expensive imports.
posted by Johnny Assay at 12:09 PM on October 19, 2007

Response by poster: Thanks Johnny Assay.

I forgot to mention that I did find this post already, so I'm not worried about fresh fruit and veggies.
posted by small_ruminant at 12:21 PM on October 19, 2007

As you note, we were there last year, and had a fabulous time. You know, it sounds to me like you're at least half-way to not being an obnoxious mainlander already, simply by caring if you are or are not. We heard stories about the, well, insular nature of the local folks, but I can honestly say we never encountered it; just about everywhere we went, we were treated warmly. Part of it may have been our appearance, I guess--a dual-ponytailed, inter-racial couple just fits in there. But, yeah, a lot of it was attitude.

As you suspect, the food was not great. Yes, yes, OH YES, the Hilo Farmers' Market will amaze and astound, but the local cuisine is nothing to write home about. There are standard grocery stores and Walgreen's and such for other staples. Take a look at my blog for other reminiscences and pictures.
posted by MrMoonPie at 12:24 PM on October 19, 2007

Don't compliment locals on their English.
posted by Pollomacho at 12:31 PM on October 19, 2007 [1 favorite]

Eat at Ken's.
posted by jferg at 12:46 PM on October 19, 2007 [1 favorite]

I'm born and raised in Honolulu, but the Big Island - where my mother's family is from, and where my Hawaiian ancestry comes from - is my favorite of them all. I hope you have a fantastic visit.

I agree with MrMoonPie that being cognizant of possible missteps and misunderstandings is more than half the battle. I'd say most of the conflicts involving visitors here are the same almost anywhere. Be open and patient, resist the urge to compare Hawaii with home (or anywhere, but particularly the Mainland), and while accepting that there are jerks in any community, revel in the distinct wonderfulness of island people.

Broad hints? Don't refer to the Mainland as "the states." (Ironically, locals can simultaneously resent being considered part of the U.S. and bristle at the implication that we're not.) Don't wear "Hawaiian Shirts." (The genuine article is subdued, elegant, and called "aloha wear.") Don't drive like you're in L.A. (though Hawaii has its share of bad drivers), and whatever you do, don't ever leave anything in your rental car (you can be cleared out before you step out of the parking lot). And appreciate the local color but don't try to emulate it. I've lived here my whole life and I still can't pull off pidgin (darn strict nisei parenting!).

Spend more time away from Kailua-Kona and resort areas than in them. Explore Hilo, the sleepier, rainier side of the island that most folks think of as the "town you drive through to get to the volcano." (I love, love, love Hilo.) Check out the further reaches of the island (they don't call it the "Big Island" for nothing) -- South Point, Honokaa, Hawi. Do more at the volcano than drive around the crater - devote a couple of days, if you can, to what is a fantastic and diverse national park. Make it a fun mission to avoid any business or chain or restaurant you've already got where you're from - no Big Macs for lunch! Definitely check out local markets and farms and holes in the wall. Some dining choices may be disasters, but some may be gems.

There's a neat astronomy center at UH-Hilo, 'Imiloa, that I visited for the first time this year and loved. Every time I visit Hilo, I eat at Ken's House of Pancakes. A unique crowd of old-time locals and fresh-off-the-plane tourists.

Take your time, soak it all in. I can never get enough of it!
posted by pzarquon at 12:53 PM on October 19, 2007

Don't spend much energy worrying about being obnoxious. The fact that you are posting here kind of shows you are not the type. The majority of the locals in Hawaii really are very friendly. Just be polite and respectful. (on preview, uhh ditto) As far as food, yeah, I guess its more expensive than some other places, but not to the extent that it would be worth it to bring food on the plane with you. Be adventurous. Social life in Hawaii tends to revolve around food, and it is a great place to try new cuisine. Just pick a different local feeding hole each day, and ask them what they are famous for. I can almost guarantee being seen chowing down on a loco moco will go a long way toward getting your honorary "local" status.
posted by MetalDog at 1:16 PM on October 19, 2007

You'll be fine, just be friendly and don't assume you're better than anybody else. Local pidgin can take a little getting used to, just listen carefully when you're spoken to and be respectful if you don't understand something.

Meanwhile, relax! Enjoy yourself, you're on vacation. Hilo is probably the most tourist neglected of all of Hawaii (excusing the occasional cruise ship). You'll have a rare opportunity to see real Hawaii.

Check out the obvious spots - the farmers market, the shops on Bayfront, Banyan drive, Lili?uokalani Park etc. But, check out some of the other stuff too.

If you like caves check out Kaumana Cave. Go on a helicopter tour. Go see a movie at the historic Palace Theater. Have a drink at the Flip Side (Mamo & Keawe). Check out the old post office and wonder about the Hawaii of yore.

There's not a lot of fancy food in Hilo - but you'll find great down home style places that are cheap and serve great authentic cuisine from all over Asia and the pacific. Recommendations: Ocean Sushi (Haili & Keawe), Miyo's (400 Hualani St) and Kow's (87 W Kawailani St). Before you leave eat a spam musubi, loco moco and a big fluffy manapua.

Also check out Hapuna beach (Northwest part of the island) if you're looking for some sun.
posted by Craig at 1:24 PM on October 19, 2007

Response by poster: Thanks for the suggestions and reassurance.

I promise not to compliment anyone's English (lol-really! Though I did hear someone do that to an East Indian once, who was a good sport, fortunately.)

Does anyone have any advice on the surfing front?
posted by small_ruminant at 1:57 PM on October 19, 2007

Check out Hawaiirama for all sorts of information.

[Disclosure: Not my site, but I built it.]
posted by Su at 5:55 PM on October 19, 2007

What about getting spam and eggs for breakfast at McDonalds? It's still a chain, but the local menu should count for something, right?
posted by ericales at 9:25 PM on October 19, 2007

From small_ruminant: "I promise not to compliment anyone's English (lol-really! Though I did hear someone do that to an East Indian once, who was a good sport, fortunately.)"

off topic: i am a (part of a?) visible minority who was born and raised in a predominantly French neighbourhood of Montreal. In other words, my conversational French is pretty decent.

Yet so many people would tell/ask me - "your French is so good! How long have you been living here?" - I guess b/c the idea of a minority actually being born here was impossible to comprehend. I MUST be a refugee or something like that.

All of the comments were well-intentioned, I should add. So never any offense taken. But the funniest was a government worker actually welcoming me to Quebec, as if I just came "off the boat" a few days prior.

Anyways, have fun in Hawaii! It is a great place!
posted by bitteroldman at 8:18 AM on October 20, 2007

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