Here’s a fact: the actual Hawaii we live in is a lot different than the Hawaii that everyone else thinks of. I blame Hollywood. There is always a big difference between reality and perception for every place, but I find it to be remarkably different for Hawaii.
Here are 5 common misconceptions that I have heard about Hawaii.
1. Everyone surfs in Hawaii.
Every time I travel and I tell people that I’m from Hawaii, they always ask me, “do you surf?”
I don’t surf at all. Neither do many people in Hawaii. But you’d think otherwise if you watch any show or movie that takes place in Hawaii (like Lilo and Stitch). Most of those movies involve surfing.
Hawaii has great weather year-round and has great waves for surfing, but not everyone that lives in Hawaii grew up around surf. For people that live in the city, the beach is not that close. Okay, I’ll admit that the beach is a lot closer for us than it is for someone from Boise, Idaho. However, the drive to the beach and inevitable fight for parking really make a trip to the beach very inconvenient for many Hawaii residents.
I know many people who live right next to the beach and they can go whenever they please (like Lilo and Stitch). For the rest of us though, playing basketball, volleyball, going to the mall, or even playing “Angry Birds” on our iPads are much more convenient ways to entertain ourselves.
2. Everybody speaks Hawaiian.
In 5th and 6th grade, there was a “Kupuna” (a respectful term for older people) that came every week to teach us some Hawaiian culture. Kupuna would tell us Hawaiian myths, teach us how to play the ukulele, and teach us Hawaiian words. We all knew how to count to 100 in Hawaiian, the names of our body parts in Hawaiian, and the words to our Hawaiian state anthem.
We knew Hawaiian, but our language skills were incredibly shallow. We never learned grammar, so we could never have a conversation. Learning Hawaiian in school was more of a cultural lesson than an actual lesson in foreign language.
Lastly, Hawaii is part of America! Everyone that speaks Hawaiian already speaks English. Therefore, it’s impractical to learn or communicate in Hawaiian.
3. We go to luaus frequently.
No, most of us don’t.
A “luau” is a Hawaiian party. When the ancient Hawaiians wanted to celebrate, they would gather everyone for a feast. At the feast, people would dance hula, sing songs, and prepare special foods like a whole-roasted pig.
Nowadays in Hawaii, the luau is not a common event, but rather an infrequent one where we celebrate Hawaii’s ancient culture and eat traditional food (you can think of it like Thanksgiving Day).
My first and only luau was in 3rd grade and I only went to that because it was a school event. Meanwhile, I’ve been to probably over 50+ tailgate parties, barbecues, and potlucks. Luaus are simply not casual events nor are they a contemporary way to celebrate.
If you are a tourist and you’re still curious about luaus, let me tell you that going to a luau is one of the most “touristy” things you can ever do here, but if you really must do it, the Hilton Hawaiian Village in Waikiki hosts luaus Sundays through Thursday.
4. It does not snow in Hawaii.
Surprising as it may be, there is snow in Hawaii! Not only do we have snow on Mauna Loa, Mauna Kea, and Haleakala (all three are over 10,000 feet above sea), but we also have hail when the weather gets weird (read more about snow in Hawaii).
5. Hawaii is a paradise.
When I worked abroad, people asked me why I would ever want to leave “paradise.” I then tell them that I grew up in the ghettos and that my early life in Hawaii was very unpleasant. This is how they respond: “Hawaii has ghettos!?”
People that have never been to Hawaii think it’s a perfect place. And I’m sure many people who have vacationed here see it the same way. Why do they think this? It’s because Hawaii has great marketing (tourism is the #1 source of income) and visitors to Hawaii usually have a great experience and enjoy the weather.
Being a visitor here and living here are two different things. Let me tell you some things that a lot of people don’t know about Hawaii:
- The median price of a single-family home in Honolulu is $625,000 (source).
- Gas prices in Hawaii are the 2nd-highest in the U.S. (source).
- Commuters living in Western Oahu spend 58 hours a year stuck in traffic (source).
- A gallon of milk costs $5 (source).
Hawaii has nice scenery and the general attitude of residents here is very friendly. However, Hawaii has problems just like everywhere. And did you know that we have a crystal meth problem here? As for living conditions, if you’re moderately wealthy and can afford to live in the nicer parts of Hawaii, like Hawaii Kai, you can live in a very pleasant shell. If you’re not so wealthy however, living in Hawaii means lower wages and higher expenses (compared to what you could find on the mainland). It also means living near ghettos and possibly degenerate people. Yes, we do have many ghettos, and I can tell you that living there is no “paradise.”
Check out this skit from Saturday Night Live called “Hawaiian Hotel.” It points out how locals and tourists view Hawaii in very different ways. It’s a comedy sketch, but there is a bit of truth in it.
These are probably the top 5 most common misconceptions I’ve heard from people. If you have more or if you would like to ask, “is it true that people in Hawaii ___________,” go ahead and ask away in the comments below.