While Hawaii is part of the United States, many visitors from the mainland and other parts of the world find that knowing a few Hawaiian words, terms and customs can go a long way (especially for those travelers who want to avoid that label, Ugly American). A beautiful language, with words that are Polynesian, Marquesan and Tahitian, plus local Pidgin, it will be impressive to fit in and put the words to use while on vacation.
Friendly people, helpful individuals and warm welcomes will evoke the need to say thank you. Mahalo is a one word expression to show appreciation and say thanks.
Directions are an important part of any vacation, whether you’re familiar with the area, a returning guest and/or using a GPS. The islands are generally circular and it’s not always straightforward to use north and south for directions, so you’ll hear local residents say makai, referring to the ocean. You’ll also hear windward for the eastern and wet part of an island.
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Along with makai, mauka means mountain and refers to the opposite direction of makai. When you’re told that the direction to take is mauka, you’re driving or hiking toward the inner parts of an island, away from the ocean, toward the mountains. While learning these terms, you’ll also hear leeward for the western and dry part of an island.
Referring to the Honolulu airport shuttle, Wikiwiki is the ground transportation between terminals at the airport. It means speedy. The islands all have a leisurely pace and while you won’t necessarily want to hurry on vacation, you’ll hear the word and should know it.
Haole, Ma Li Hini and Kama’aina
While it’s mostly a term to designate a foreigner or someone who is not of Hawaiian descent, it can be used in an unflattering way, so if you hear it, you’ll know how it’s being used based on context. Ma Li Hini is a tourist and kama’aina is a local island resident, whether native or someone who now lives on the island.
Pupu platters go hand-in-hand with happy hour. The pupu can range from little seafood bites to innovative Pan-Asian or Hawaiian tapas. You’ll find these at luaus to, along with poi, the taro plant and must-try flavor of the islands.
Da kine is one of those words with a lot or little translation, depending on how much you need translated. It’s a genuine Pidgin term that can basically amount to saying ‘that thing’ or stuff. It’s flattering though, when you say it to mean the best, so use it for your favorite experiences on vacation.
Ohana means family, not just your personal circle or close friends, but blood relatives. Less commonly used, hui refers to the people closest to you, whether family or friends.
An expression as much as a term, shaka exemplifies island spirit. Middle fingers remain in a fist and thumb and pinky are extended and wiggled, shaka is hang loose or an affirmation of a friendly gesture. Overuse by ma li hini can be viewed as a typical tourist trying to fit in, but go with it and have fun.
Your vacation will begin and end with aloha, with several in between. Aloha and its multiple meanings of hello, goodbye and greetings is a warm welcome. You’ll often hear of the aloha spirit because it’s more than just a way to say hi; rather, it’s an extension of the welcome, with good wishes as you meet others and as you come and go while on vacation.