5 Common Misconceptions About Hawaii

5 Common Misconceptions About Hawaii

men in a canoe
Photo by Rob GoodierFor starters, this is NOT how we get to work in the morning.

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.

Lilo and Stitch Surfing
According to movies, everyone in Hawaii surfs. Even aliens.From Lilo & Stitch

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.

big waves
Waves this big are not very inviting either.Photo by Karen Chan 16

2. Everybody speaks Hawaiian.

aloha sign
This pretty much sums how much Hawaiian we speak.Photo by Sam Howzit

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.

Photo by takaokunTraditional luau food includes lau lau (far right), poi (middle), lomi lomi salmon (top), and kalua pig (left). A lot of people have other foods at luaus though, that’s why you also see ribs, beef stew, and rice.

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.

Photo by Joe ParksMauna Kea on the Big Island is over 13,000 feet from sea level. See those white fluffy things? Those are clouds.

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).
Photo by Justin De La OrnellasThe high cost of living in Hawaii contributes to the noticeable homeless population in Hawaii

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.

Closing Thoughts

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.

17 thoughts on “5 Common Misconceptions About Hawaii

  1. I lived on Oahu for one year in 2005-2006. My husband was stationed there with the army and living there is quite the adjustment for many people. Personally, I enjoyed it and wanted to stay, but I also had the military paying our rent by giving us housing and had a buffered experience from living out there completely on my own. The biggest challenges that I think outsiders have a problem with is what this article points out, the expectation versus reality that Hawaii is a very expensive place and it has problems. No place is perfect but some haole cannot adjust to living there because they miss their family, like to drive to visit them and can’t, and culturally the place is so different than anything they’ve ever experienced. It was almost like moving to a foreign country and yes you can feel the tension that not everyone is happy that you’re there. After the initial adjustment I enjoyed my time there, I learned to scuba dive and found where the good local restaurants and stores were, places to stay away from and if you are quiet and respectful then you will not have problems. Not everyone is going to be your friend, yes it can feel very exclusionary, but learn to stand on your own and not everyone is going to be nice to you there, just get over it and swallow your pride. I am looking to move back eventually after my kids grow up and move out. I just want to experience living there one more time. Visiting Hawaii and living there are totally different experiences!

  2. Jacque, Thank you for a great article. I lived as a child (2-5) in Oahu before Hawaii became part of the U.S. and we ruined it. I was brought up with no locked doors, learning to swim, do the hula, and have a carefree childhood. We moved to the mainland so my mom could be near her twin sister. My dad would have stayed. I miss the music and the hang people; I’ve been back a few times but I feel like a tourist. My question is about Dolphin Quest. I recently learned about this project and after swimming with dolphins in the ocean, and knowing about the horrible captures entertainment places do, it makes me sick to see Hawaii is participating in captive programs with the cover of research. Do you know anything about these programs? Mahalo. Marlene

  3. i found 2 massage therapy schools in interested in applying to. i also found a couple apartments that look like they are in nice areas too. is it safe for a 18 or 19 year old girl (myself) to live there alone?

  4. So my 19 yr old daughter has been accepted to University of Hawaii Mānoa and has been searching for a room to rent close to the college, any particular areas she should avoid? Thanks in advance.

    1. Hey John, Manoa and Makiki are residential areas neat UH Manoa that I would recommend, with Manoa being a very clean neighborhood with lots of families, while Makiki is more transient. Waikiki is so-so, due to it being louder, expensive, and difficult to find parking… But the beach is right there. I would recommend against downtown or Chinatown. Kakaako is a trendy place to live, near ala moana, and lots to do.

  5. Yes. Very accurate. Hawaii is a ghetto. I have lived here for 6 years. This is collectivist culture, NOT U.S. MAINLAND individualist culture. I never knew that people like this existed that were so vulgar, loud, disrespectful, and that unintelligent. It is horrendous to hear the unintelligent, scary conversations the locals speak to one another. There is no tact with their group. The other group which is Asian mix, is also collectivist, which has the trait of embedded to THEIR group only. They will completely ignore you and there is no customer service here. If they do not ignore you at a check-out, the rest of the females at least will make weird disapproving clicking, tsking, or hissing noises at me, the white female on passing. Collectivist cultures seem to lack basics in integration of diversity in America. What is happening in Hawaii, is what America will soon be. A country founded by individualists but being taken over by collectivism. COLLECTIVIST GROUPS WILL ALWAYS BE EMBEDDED TO ONLY THEIR RACIAL GROUP. Hawaii is a ghetto, a collectivist ghetto. Caucasians be warned. I never feel safe here, much less ever comfortable. I want out!!!!!!!

    1. Holiday, there are vulgar loud disrespectful people everywhere. Did you live in different parts of the state or just one? For anyone reading this, Holiday probably did not have a good time living there, but remember that a 1/4 of the state is white. And I disagree with the entire state being collectivist and ethnically insular. About 1/4 of the population here identifies as multi-racial, due to the heavy integrated couplings from Sugar Cane plantation days. Not everyone is so open though.

  6. I find your statement about learning and speaking Hawaiian to be impractical just because everybody else speaks English. I find it very practical, no necessary for the language of this land to be treated with respect even if you do not understand it. And the Hawaiian monarch, Queen Lili’uokalani was illegally overthrown, therefore Hawai’i is not legally part of the United States. I would suggest you find primary sources that reveals the true history of Hawai’i.

    1. Prior to March 1959, Hawaii was truly a paradise. We were ohana. No locked doors, no pilikia. Aloha was everywhere. We survived the overthrow of our last beloved Queen, never forgetting who we are. Ghetto is a haole word used on the mainland. If ghetto you mean Palama, Lanikila, kapalama or Kalihi, yeah we were money poor but rich in the aloha spirit. We give whatever we had to help our neighbors. Every kupuna was an aunty or uncle. I live in Ohio now to be with my moopunas. I don’t recognize the islands now but I’ll always have the aloha spirit where ever I go.

  7. Ron, I know that you are a busy person and don’t have a lot of time for the request that I’m going to ask, but will try anyway.

    my son is getting ready to graduate college and his goal for years has been to move to Hawaii. He has done the basic research like jobs available (His degree is in Parks and Recreation and guides white water, rock climbing etc.) and is a Volunteer Fireman that he wants to continue or become full time.

    His goal for Hawaii is not for the hot girls or the parties and he could live off the land forever. But the seasons and the tourists being a perfect for his job.

    I would love to have communication with him to help him explain how this may not be the best way to go straight out of college. He also has never lived on his own outside of the dorms. He tends to think I over exaggerate things to keep him closer, which is not the case. I’m just afraid this is not the adventure he is seeking. (actually how I found this article…looking for proof) I have nothing against Hawaii or him living there if he wants. But its not like going away for the weekend and no one in our family is financially in the right place to help him if things go bad.

    Any help would be awesome. And thanks so much for this article at the lease.

    1. Jacque,

      Sorry, but I don’t think there’s any easy way to convince him. He’s fallen in love and nothing you can say will really change his mind.

      Going with the falling in love analogy, you basically have the hard task of convincing your son that the girl he loves (Hawaii) is not right for him. Unfortunately, he probably won’t care what you say because he’s following his heart. The heart is very hard to ignore. The only thing that can dissuade him would be to see the faults in his love or for him to be with her so long that the spark no longer exists.

      I can’t necessarily say that Hawaii is a bad idea for him. One thing that I know for sure is that A LOT of people have dreams about visiting and living in Hawaii. If you walk around Waikiki, you’ll see so many happy families and couples enjoying themselves on the beach and at dinner. It’s not a paradise if you ask me, but that doesn’t mean that people don’t have that dreamy image of Hawaii in their heads.

      So basically, he’s going to do what he’s going to do. If he’s making a mistake, then let him make the mistakes. I was a young man once… and for guys like me that don’t listen to their moms or wise elders, mistakes and awful consequences are our only way to learn.

      Good luck though. Stay in contact with him. Maybe help him find a cheap spot to rent in a safe neighborhood that’s close to a grocery store. Consider finding a job before even setting foot in Hawaii. A lot of out of towners work in the restaurant industry and in Waikiki.

      1. Thank you so much for your advice. On the bright side, I raised a kid who listens to me more than I thought. I went over not only what you wrote but other info I looked up. (We have supported this until recently) Luckily, my son is not ready to deal with some of the very harsh realities that could await a young man just out of college. He also, is NOT and never will be an indoor worker. His two goals are running hikes, kayaking, etc. or Fire Fighter (which if he does the first he wants to be a volunteer FF like he is now) after all my research he has decided that for NOW, this is not the best choice. He is going to stay on the Mainland and get a few years of experience and references and hopefully in future still move to Hawaii, even if for just a year, with a job already before he leaves. None of us think Hawaii is a bad place, we just want him to know (as a young man who has never truly lived on his own…outside the dorms) that he may want to be a bit more prepared. He listened and we will be planning his Hawaii Adventure for the future. Thanks again so much! Jacque

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