Island Etiquette


Island EtiquetteNo matter where you travel, you should always consider the etiquette and customs of the place you’re visiting. People are usually forgiving of visitors, but they’ll be way more appreciative and patient if you at least made an effort to learn the basics beforehand.

1. Don’t say “back in the States” when referring to other parts of the country. Hawaii is the U.S. and other states are referred to as “the mainland.”

2. Do not try to speak Pidgin English to others, even if you’re just trying to be funny. It can be misconstrued for mocking.

3. Do not get offended if someone refers to you as “haole”. It’s a common term and means “stranger” or “foreign”, usually reserved for Caucasians.

4. Do not disturb the sea creatures, including sea turtles, dolphins, humpback whales, or monk seals. Not only is it dangerous and disturbing to the animal, but there is actually a law against it in the state of Hawaii. The same goes for coral reef! Make sure to maintain distance from protected reef on your snorkeling or scuba diving trip.

5. If someone gives you a lei, do not remove it in front of them. It’s considered rude.

6. If invited to someone’s home, remove your shoes before entering. This is a Japanese custom that was adopted by the Hawaiians. It’s also considered polite to bring a small gift, such as dessert or a side dish.

7. If you plan on doing a lot of driving, especially the Road to Hana, keep an eye on your rear view mirror for locals and pull over to let them pass. Imagine if you lived along a one way road that was constantly filled with tourists looking out their window and driving 10mph. Be polite and let them by.

8. Don’t honk in traffic. You’re on Maui time. You’ll get there, relax.

9. Don’t call locals “natives”. It’s considered derogatory.

10. If you plan on doing any serious surfing (not taking lessons in a crowded and popular area), abide by surfing etiquette. Respect the lineup, wait your turn, don’t drop in on someone else’s wave, etc. Talk to the lifeguard beforehand if you have any questions.

11. Yes, you should leave a tip. Tipping is necessary and appreciated, as in all parts of the country.


Follow these basic rules and you’ll be just fine. People on Maui are very friendly and welcoming. Accept the “aloha” culture and practice it the next time you’re in Hawaii.

11 thoughts on “Island Etiquette”

  1. Great list, however there are some things I’ve noticed:

    #3 Sure, “haole” is sometimes used as a non-derogatory term, but its equally used as in a derogatory way and it shouldn’t be condoned or apologized for anymore than the use of other racially charged terms. One only has to google “maui haole youtube” to see an example.

    #7 I totally agree on this but this applies just as much to locals as it does to anyone else. I cant tell you how many times I’ve been stuck behind locals going slow on the only lane or driving side-by-side on a multilane highway.

    #8 I also totally agree with no honking. But I cant help but notice that the “You’re on Maui time. You’ll get there, relax.” is contradictory to #7.LOL.

  2. Nice list, Kelsey! I especially appreciate you including #10! One small correction, though. For #6, I’d avoid saying that “Hawaiians” adopted the custom of removing the slippers. This custom began during Hawaiʻi’s plantation era, a time when many ethnicities (Portuguese, Chinese, Japanese, Filipino, etc.) adopted one another’s customs. It’s not accurate to call these various ethnicities “Hawaiian,” which is its own culture altogether. Sorry, just a pet peeve of mine when folks say that they’re “Hawaiian” just because they live in Hawaiʻi. I know a lot of people read these posts, so it would be great to let everyone know the difference. In fact, that could be #12! 😉

  3. Great post to guide the visitors and new residents on Hawaii. Little things makes a big difference – following these simple etiquette will make a visitors’ stay more pleasant. Will share 🙂

  4. So wait. #3. Whitey can’t call native Hawaiians native Hawaiians, but it’s ok for them to discuss us based on our race?

  5. But should we gently correct the person calling us a haole and remind them that it is racist as it is understood to be derogatory to Caucasians? Since in America racism is a violation of everyone’s civil rights.


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