a crash-course in CULTURE

Aloha! Jazz Whitaker here, Hawaii local, lover of shave ice, and supporting character in Taylor’s debut novel, Porch Swing Girl.

Oops, did she forget to tell you?

Well, I guess I can do that, too. Taylor invited me to come on her blog and do a guest post about Hawaii. She figured, since I was born and raised on the island of Maui (okay, actually on a boat offshore, but still) that I’d be the best one to give you a crash course in Hawaiian culture.

Because there’s always THAT PERSON. The tourist that…well…stands out from the rest. The one that loudly asks why they have to take off their “FLIP-FLOPS” (they’re called slippas here on the island) and says that they’d like to try tuna “POKE” if it was cooked (heads-up: it’s a delicious bowl of seasoned raw fish, pronounced “po-kay”). So I’m here to help you out, clue you in. So, if you ever find yourself on my beautiful island, hopefully you won’t freak out when a wild chicken struts over and starts pecking your slippas. That’s totally normal.


  • SPAM I am. Seriously. SPAM. It’s everywhere. And it’s delicious. Okay, so it’s pretty gross right out of the can. A lot of the mainlanders will tell you it smells like dog food. That’s just because they haven’t done it right. My aunt, AJ, slices it thin and fries it like bacon. It’s amazing. And a side note: Don’t freak out when you see SPAM in the warming shelves at the grocery store. Rotisserie chicken? Maybe. SPAM? Always.
  • The chickens WILL cross the road. And you’ll stop and wait for them like the nice, patient person you are. And you DEFINITELY won’t honk your horn. We’re pretty laid back around here, which means that chickens run free and horns never honk. You might get annoyed (seriously, some chickens are SLOW) but it’ll all be worth it when you order the free range chicken at that farm-to-table restaurant on the beach. Okay, I’m kidding on that one.
  • It’s shave ice. Not a sno-cone. Not shaved ice. SHAVE ICE. No, it’s not grammatically correct, but a lot of things on the island aren’t. For example: “Broke da mout” is our way of saying “broke the mouth” aka–that was delicious. “Auntie, Tutu (Grandma or Grandpa), and Uncle” are used to refer to all close family friends. Because, on the islands, family isn’t just connected by blood.
  • I’m not a Hawaiian. Yes, I was born in Hawaii. Yes, I’ve lived in Maui my entire life. No, I am not a Hawaiian. I am a local. There’s a difference–Hawaiians are those who are actually…well…Hawaiian. In other words, descended from the Native Hawaiians, who have inhabited the islands since 500 AD. If you don’t have Hawaiian blood, you’re not a Hawaiian. If you’ve lived in Hawaii your entire life, you’re a local. If you moved to the islands when you were an adult, you’re a transplant. Make sense? Good.
  • Just hang loose. Stick your thumb and your pinky finger up in a shaka sign (it’s the same as a wave) and spread the universal “hang-loose” vibe wherever you go. On the islands, flashing a shaka is more common than waving and it’s a nice reminder of one of the best parts about Hawaii–the aloha spirit. Being nice and spreading aloha (love) is pretty much a requirement when you’re on the islands. Even when we get frustrated, it doesn’t last long before the crashing waves carry away our worries.
  • You’re going to gain weight, so don’t even try to worry about it–and please, no complaining. There’s no way NOT to put on an extra pound or two when you’re chowing down on plates of loco moco. (Translation: crazy booger. It’s a plate filled with sticky white rice, topped with a hamburger patty smothered in gravy AND a fried egg. Yum.) The food here is amazing, just don’t knock it before you try it, because we’ve got some straaange names.
  • Learn your ABC’s. No, really. Pull out a map and mark off two or three of the closest ABC stores. These crazy stores are the Hawaiian version of a dollar store (except nothing costs a dollar because, if you haven’t noticed, Hawaiian prices are about double what you’d expect to pay on the mainland) and you can find anything, from tacky souvenirs to travel necessities. I’m not saying you’ll be getting quality items (read: you won’t) but the offerings at these stores will do in a pinch.
  • You won’t be able to pronounce the street names. Just plan on it. Most of our street names are in Hawaiian. Lahainaluna Road, Kaakolu Street, and Ainakea Road are all some of the impossible-to-pronounce streets I walk by almost every day. When in doubt, spell it out. Or, when in Lahaina, stick with Front Street–that’s an easy one to pronounce. It’s also swamped with tourists, tacky tourist shops, and overrated restaurants–it’s okay, the mainlanders love it there.


I could keep writing–I still haven’t warned you about the snooty people in Wailea, or reminded you to TAKE OFF YOUR SHOES whenever you go into someone’s house–but Taylor wanted me to keep my word count down. Anyway, I hope you now know a bit more about local Hawaiian culture. Hopefully, if you ever visit my lovely island, you won’t find yourself with a complete case of culture shock.


Have you ever been to Hawaii? What were some strange customs you noticed?


  1. Love Maui, but no matter how many times I visit you’ll never get me to agree that Spam is delicious. I grew up eating it in Southern California and I’ll never eat it again. Besides, I’d rather eat ono or opah at Paia Fishmarket. 🙂

  2. Such an interesting post!! I really learned a lot reading it. Thanks for letting your character take over, haha.

    Found your blog via YWW. 🙂


    1. Nope, though I’ve visited several times for “research trips” (aka convenient vacation excuses) and have studied the culture–it’s so fascinating to me. I’m so glad you enjoyed the post. 🙂 🙂 🙂

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *