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1. You’re driving your shiny new sports car…through the rainforest.
Every local knows that in order to truly enjoy your surroundings in Hawaii, you have to own a cruiser or a beach vehicle that can hold all your toys and take a beating. Usually, this is an old pickup truck you can throw your surfboards, kayaks, and friends in. Only tourists are cruising the rugged back roads and rainforests of the island in a shiny new sports car, afraid to get it a little dirty from a day of adventure.
My favorite drive, Maui’s rugged North Shore from Kapalua to Wailuku, has the best panoramic views — at a cost, though. You have to drive along an unpaved path etched into the side of the mountain, teetering off the edge, thwarting certain death for just a little while. Rental car companies technically forbid you to travel this road because of the conditions.
But locals know the unspoken right-of-way law: If you’re going mauka (toward the mountain), yield to oncoming makai (toward the sea) traffic. This is especially imperative on a road that’s a hair wider than a golf cart. Cruising this road, you’ll always encounter the occasional svelte sports car, whipping around corners, filled with tourists who’re angry you won’t make room for them. All you can do is observe the ‘rules of the road’ and hope others follow suit.
2. Your skin is pasty.
There’s a difference between trying to avoid skin cancer from harmful UV rays and being completely, blindingly pale. Many tourists visit Hawaii straight from the mainland winter, where the sun hasn’t shone in weeks, possibly months. As if the Hawaiian sun isn’t glaring enough, a look at a pasty tourist’s skin is a good reason for locals to put on some Ray-Bans and walk on.
Boatloads of pasty tourists tend to congregate on main thoroughfares: Front Street in Lahaina on Maui is a popular one. There, tourists bobble along in the hot sun, working on their ‘tans.’ But later, they’ll be at pau hana (happy hour) rubbing aloe vera all over their burning skin. Skincare’s a hard lesson to learn for a tourist, but important nonetheless.
3. You pronounce it ‘high-low’ and the ‘like-like’ highway.
Hawaiian words are notoriously hard to pronounce, and Hilo (hee-low) and the Likelike (lee-kay-lee-kay) Highway are the least of your worries. Most people aren’t accustomed to all the vowels in the Hawaiian alphabet, but after time transplants learn how to pronounce the local kine slang. When tourists show up and butcher the local language, it’s painful, but funny.
I’ve heard a lot of people in the Puna District (an area of the Big Island, 30 miles south of Hilo) helplessly ask for directions to ‘High-low,’ clearly looking for ‘Hee-low.’ It’s an honest mistake on any novice’s part. Another common mispronunciation is the Hawaiian snack poke, which is diced, marinated ahi tuna salad. Pronounced ‘po-kay,’ people often pronounce it ‘po-kee,’ or worse, ‘poke,’ as in “I will poke you if you pronounce poke wrong.”
4. You still shop at the ABC Store.
Overpriced beverages, gimmicky aloha shirts, and chocolate-covered macadamia nuts? Not unless you’re a tourist. ABC Stores litter the tourist spots on all the islands. I think there are two within a one-block radius in Waikiki.
Once you’re shopping at Times Market, Foodland, or Safeway for your day-trip and grocery needs, you’re in.
5. You’re wearing anything other than Locals brand slippahs on your feet.
Locals in Hawaii have rough feet from continuously being immersed in salt water, walking over treacherous lava rock barefoot, and having their toes in the sand. Locals brand slippahs, purchased at Long’s Drug Store for $5.99, are all you need.
The best thing about Hawaii is a poor man and a rich man side by side are indiscernible. The poor man wears board shorts, a tank top, and beat-up Locals slippahs. The rich man wears board shorts, a tank top, and beat-up Locals slippahs. The tourist sticks out like a sore thumb: They’re wearing their ritzy, strappy sandals or loafers, have manicured toes, and yelp aloud when stepping on the hot sand.
And real locals will wear their Locals beyond their shelf life too, because everyone knows it takes a while to break in a good pair of shoes.
6. You still think “aloha” only has two meanings.
A word packed with so much significance, aloha has applications for all facets of life, not just in coming and going, and locals know the importance of “living aloha” on the islands. Many tourists believe aloha only means “hello” or “goodbye,” but it really signifies a way of life through unity and oneness with mankind and da ‘aina.
7. You haven’t made spam musubi part of your regular diet.
Perhaps the sweetest and most savory little snack you can get your hands on, spam musubi is a staple in any local Hawaiian’s diet. You can find these delicious little suckers everywhere: plate lunch joints, da beach, on the counter at the gas station, you name it. Spam musubi is a great snack any time of day, and it’s portable, too. They’re perfect for driving, alongside your saimin (noodle soup), dinner, you name it.
Tourists are apprehensive. They know what spam’s four letters stand for and still haven’t developed a taste for nori (seaweed). Tourists get skittish about refrigerating everything, and, more often than not, these sushi-inspired treats are saran-wrapped and sitting atop the counter for convenience. But once you get brave and go for that first sweet and savory bite of spam musubi, you’re hooked.
8. You honk instead of throwing shakas.
Nothing is more of a dead giveaway that you aren’t a Hawaiian local than honking in traffic. We try to keep it calm, cool, and collected here on da island, and honking a car horn is aggressive and obtrusive to our way of life.
I once heard someone honk in traffic in the sleepy surfer town of Paia on the North Shore of Maui. As with most small towns, people tend to cross the street when there’s a break in traffic, especially over a two-lane highway coming from the beach.
In retaliation to the blatant noise pollution by the obvious tourist honker, a peeved local shouted, “Go back to the mainland!” then threw a shaka out the window.