Saturday, December 12, 2009

White Christmas in Hawaii

I fell in love with and married a woman from Hawaii. Since all her relatives live there, I have been forced to make many trips over the years to these fair isles. Once again, I am obliged to spend this coming Christmas lying on the beach, hiking volcanoes, swimming with sea turtles, and other required activities. But all is not paradise for this mainlander. If there is one thing I've learned during my dozen or so trips to Hawaii, it's this: Hawaiians are strange!

Let's get one thing straight. When I say "Hawaiians" I mean all the local people who live there. Hawaii is a true melting pot, a complex mix of Native Hawaiians, Japanese, Chinese, Koreans, Okinawans, Filipinos, Puerto Ricans, Portuguese, and, believe it or not, quite a few caucasians (called "haoles" (pronounced "how-lees")). Their cultures and languages have mixed, resulting in a unique blend that takes some getting used to. Here's what this haole has learned:

The locals speak a difficult-to-understand dialect called Pidgin (developed so all the different cultures could speak to each other). For example, the phrase "da kine" (kine is pronounced like kind without the "d"), can mean almost anything. It can refer to a person, a place, thing or whatever the local person can't remember. So it is possible a local might say, "She wen da kind foa get da kine foa da kine." This means, "She went to (a place I can't remember) to get (something I can't remember) for (someone I can't remember). Perhaps the Hawaiians need some memory enhancers.

I don't recommend that tourists attempt to speak Pidgin. Believe me, I tried. Sometimes, it can get tricky. If a local says, "Eh, dat Duncan, he so lolo he wen call dat moke one mahu and he wen crack him an now he all bus up." This means, "Duncan foolishly suggested that this large Hawaiian man was a homosexual and he then physically assaulted Duncan beyond recognition." I guess I learned my Pidgin the hard way.

Hawaiian food, overall, is excellent. The first lesson is to not be worried when someone says "OH NO!" when eating. They are actually saying "ono" which means "delicious"!

However, there's a few food mines in the culinary landscape. Take poi. Or, rather, don't take poi. This is a traditional Hawaiian food that is essentially mushed taro root. It's as appetizing as it sounds. They make the tourists try it at luaus and stuff but, here's the secret, even the locals don't like it despite it's purple color and high nutrition.

Here's the funny thing: Hawaiians think SPAM is ono (delicious). SPAM, in this case, is actually a canned Spiced Ham product, although some think SPAM stands for "Something Posing As Meat." Most people in America and Europe remember SPAM as something people had to eat during World War II because there was nothing else edible. Hawaiians actually like it and eat more of it than the entire universe combined. They'll eat it with almost anything - SPAM sandwich, SPAM casserole, SPAM & eggs, etc. The most iconic item is the SPAM musubi, which is a slice of SPAM packed in rice, and, if that were not bad enough, they wrap it in seaweed. (Pretend you like it or they will be very upset with you!)

A big heads up: On the mainland we put "poo poos" in the toilet. In Hawaii, they put them in their mouths! That's right! A pu-pu platter is a tray of hors d'oeuvres that one brings to parties and such. So, don't be put off when the locals ask you to try their delicious "poo-poos" because they are just trying to be hospitable.

The Asian influence on the local Hawaiian culture is very strong. Asian culture emphasizes the importance of the group over the individual. In Hawaii, I have had to learn the art of going "back door" on things. This means getting what you want in a round about way (since being direct is considered very rude). It's funny seeing a group of people try to decide what restaurant to go to because, by that code, no one can push their own opinion strongly. By hint and innuendo, subtle suggestions are floated and tested. Whatever is decided, the important thing is that everyone agrees (even if no one particularly likes the restaurant in question). This is very frustrating to a hungry outspoken individualist like myself. I keep having to remind myself "Different, not wrong! Different, not wrong!"

Well, as you can see, this white man doesn't fit in too well into the Hawaiian milieu. I guess I could try a bit harder to adapt to the Hawaiian culture I find myself in this Christmas, but, frankly, I'm dreaming of a white Christmas.

And could someone tell me why everyone here is yelling "Mele Kalikimaka" at me? I'm sure it's something very rude.

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