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Is the Welcome Mat Out for Newcomers to Hawaiʻi?

I Hawaii chalkboard sign

You know the “sandwich” technique for giving feedback? Like when you have something you need to say to a team member or maybe to your spouse, and you start with a positive statement that says, “I see you and care about our relationship.” Then you deliver the tough message as diplomatically and constructively as you can. And finish with another effort at appreciation and a hug.

Well thatʻs the ideal anyway. Iʻm naturally more of a come-right-out-and-say-it communicator, and I have to work hard at being diplomatic. Iʻm explaining because itʻs time to say how I really feel about some things — in particular what I feel those of you who have recently moved here, or aspire to in the future, need to know.

So! Let me say upfront how much I appreciate my clients and the readers of my blog posts. I truly seem to attract amazing clients who often become friends. Iʻm going to tell you these things because I do care about you, and I care very much about Hawaiʻi. I see the positive: you are not running fearfully away from something so much as you are being attracted by the values and spirit of this place that seem to resonate with the better life you want for yourself and your family and the planet. You want to contribute.

If there is to be a better Hawaiʻi in the future, as a real estate professional, I have a responsibility to help midwife it. Thatʻs why Iʻm going to share whatʻs been on my mind. Besides, it becomes harder and harder to write about real estate for sale in Hawaii when there is nothing listed for sale. Better to tell my readers about what it means to live here responsibly once you buy.

*You Gotta Lotta Money, Wanna Go Where Itʻs Sunny, So You Fly to Hawaiʻi….*

Crowd on beach at sunset in hawaii

With “2020” hindsight (pun intended), the new resident flow into Hawaiʻi since the beginning of the Covid pandemic looks more like an hourglass than a funnel. Meaning, in ʻnormalʻ times, we real estate professionals facilitate a steady drip of newcomers in as former generations of newcomers cycle out. The difference is that since mid-2020, several years’ worth of real estate inventory got snapped up in a matter of months…and that means several times the usual number of malihini, newcomers, have arrived in this short period.

The sun is shining, the whales or dolphins are leaping, lei and laulau are for sale in the supermarket, we made it to paradise! Of course you are happy.

Now hereʻs the cold water of harsh truth. Do not be surprised when you notice you are not as welcome in Hawaiʻi in 2021 as you might have felt a few years ago. I brought you here, so it falls on me to explain this reality.

Even wrapped in a sandwich, my words may sting. No problem, you can unsubscribe from my posts. Itʻs not so easy for a local person to “unsubscribe” from the discomfort your arrival causes them.

The local economy is still hurting, but the shopping center parking lot is full of luxury cars with out-of-state plates. You might have heard me say there is no such thing as a quick trip to the post office or the grocery store in our small communities. But now, there can be an overwhelming number of unfamiliar faces in those familiar places. It feels like an invasion. And that triggers historical memory of profound and repeated loss.

The First Move is Yours

Hawaiian Flag in Distress on the Beach

Upside down flag — a signal of national distress — and a high surf warning. Photo Credit: Linny Morris Photography

When you moved neighborhoods where you came from, the welcome wagon lady would come by with a freshly baked coffee cake and a basket of gifts and offers from local businesses, right? We moved a lot when I was young. Each time, the neighbors would reach out, Iʻd make friends at school, and pretty soon our new house would feel like home.

You are going to have to work harder here.

It is true that Hawaiian culture places a high value on hospitality, hoʻokipa. You have experienced it authentically in your time here as a tourist. But that was a transactional experience. To be blunt, people in the hospitality industry are paid to make you feel welcome. To date, you contributed to the life of this place and its people primarily with your tourist dollars.

Once you are a resident, the dynamic changes. You have chosen to make your home within a relationship culture. The people whose home this was already will not greet you (or me) with a codependent inclination to take care of you while you take advantage of their innate hospitality. As someone who I now count among my good friends told me bluntly 15 years ago, and not exactly in a welcoming tone: You gotta give first. Thatʻs how it works.

I took it to heart; I give my time and my money for the benefit of my community. It would be great if you volunteered and made charitable contributions too.

But even more fundamentally, I urge you to give the gifts of openness, listening, and learning. The gift of humility. The gift of not assuming Hawaii is – or even worse should be – in any way like where you came from or like what you expect it to be. Your gift is not your vision for the future of Hawaiʻi – but it could be to listen and contribute to the vibrant possibilities that are emerging here.

Act Like a Dummy? You Might Be Invited to Go Back Where You Came From*

Flying,Over,Hawaii,A,View,From,Plane.

Those of you who have known me for a while remember when I was married to the Swiss Guy. For the first year he joined me in the U.S. he reacted to food or service or our various American habits by bending his arm at the elbow, making a fist, and starting his complaint with the words “In Switzerland….” while swinging his elbow out to the side and in again on “Switz” er “Land.” “Well youʻre not in SWITZerLAND”(arm motion), I would remind him — and my real thought was “but maybe you should just go back if you donʻt like things here because they are not going to change to make you happy.”

So donʻt be like the Swiss Guy. And if you really feel things should work here like they do somewhere else, if you are really offended that no one bends over backward to make things easier for you, if you keep insisting on how you are going to make Hawaiʻi better by (fill in the blank)…don’t be surprised if you get invited to “go back where you came from.”

Your Next Step: Listening to Other Voices

Fortunately, I do see many newcomers wanting to learn and become what Brother Noland calls “one correct haole” in this humorous video produced by my beloved Kahilu Theatre. Please click this link to watch “Haole Do It” now.

Following Adamʻs example of approaching your new island home with humility and patience and engagement is a great start.

If you made it all the way to the end of this post and you are ready to turn up the heat on your discomfort, now grab your pidgin dictionary and your headphones, and listen to this song called Aloha Means Goodbye. Thatʻs the non-diplomatic version of what Iʻm trying to explain. Humorous if you are from here because it sounds just like your cousin or neighbor. Iʻm grateful to Makana for sandwiching this into his performances so an audience of people like me and you can hear it.

Ready to talk about what it means to live in todayʻs Hawaiʻi? Letʻs do it!

If you are willing to be uncomfortable and to listen to how people really feel about your being here, you will open up meaningful conversations and relationships and a pathway to connection with Hawaiʻi – the place and the people.

Thanks for joining me on this journey. A hui hou.

Read Parts 2 and 3

The Welcome Mat for Newcomers – Whatʻs in a Name
Welcome Mat Test Question: A Hawaiian National Holiday – Lā Hoʻihoʻi Ea

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jo kim

July 7, 2021

a tasty sandwich indeed. need to chew on it a bit more. excellent food for thought.

Georgie Hunter

July 8, 2021

Awesome. A very well built sandwich!

Lynn Long

July 8, 2021

Always love your “on point” writing. This one applies as well to most regions with a unique and long established way of life.

Noelani Spencer

July 8, 2021

I was thinking about writing a blog on this very topic today! I was pondering the title…Practicing Aloha. One must understand what that is before being able to do so.

I am delighted to see this post, Beth!mThank you for being a voice and speaking so many of our truths…Hawaii needs it!!

Linda

July 9, 2021

As a someday potential resident of Hawaii, I read your article with so much appreciation and humbleness for what Hawaii’s Kama’aina must be experiencing right now. Thank you for saying what needed to be said. On my next visit I will be sure to bear this in mind and haole the right way, while still showing Aloha 🙂 .

Beth Robinson

July 9, 2021

Thank you all so much for taking the time to comment on this post!

Linda Hussey

July 9, 2021

Love this !

Brian Ansorge

July 11, 2021

Beth? Beth Robinson?

Can I quote you?

“To be blunt, people in the hospitality industry are paid to make you feel welcome.”

YES. A thousand times, yes.

Some, less perceptive and honest as you, may be inclined to describe that as “aloha.”

But, as you apparently are aware of, *real* aloha is … elusive, even in “Paradise.”

I could go on, but—for now—all I can say is, “that’s all I’m going to say about that.”

Oh, just noticed you have an actual email address, OK; I’ll copy and paste into an email, Beth.

Aloha.

brian

PS I do NOT mind your being totally honest and authentic. In fact, I ENJOY it. Thanks.

Lynnette Iverson

July 12, 2021

I have visited Hawaii – Oahu, Big Island, Kaui and Maui several times since 2012 – 15 or so trips. I’ve considered moving there. Calling mainlanders Haoles is no different than any other hate or racism. If I move to Colorado, I will be respectful. If I move to Maine, I will be respectful. If I stay in Wisconsin where I live, I will be respectful. I’m tired of the lectures about Hawaii and their culture and the residents not wanting anyone to move there. We are all part of the US. I can move anywhere within the US that I want – it’s my right. If a Hawaiian wanted to move to Wisconsin, I would have no right to complain about it and then call that person derogatory names when they become my next door neighbor. We are all free to move anywhere within the US that we want, no one has a right to say otherwise. Each state and its residents have a “culture”. Hawaii and Hawaiians aren’t somehow superior or more important than the rest of us. I will always be respectful to my environment & the community regardless of where I decide to live. I expect the same in return.

Beth Robinson

July 12, 2021

> I would like to respond to Lynnetteʻs comment to clear up a misunderstanding that others might share.

For the most part, “haole” is not a derogatory term, it is used descriptively to describe someone of white/European background or looks. I hope you will watch the Haole Do It series as Brother Noland spends some time talking about this.

Mahalo for reading and commenting.

Lynnette Ann Iverson

July 12, 2021

I disagree about the word Haole. Name calling is name calling and doing so based on a persons looks and then justifying it? Wow, tell that to blacks when someone calls them the N-word. Or how about Asians? They too have derogatory words thrown at them according to their looks. It’s not OK. The words on their own are never the problem, they are just groups of letters. The way words are used and who is using them, that’s what makes it racist or derogatory and YES Haole is absolutely derogatory. If you believe otherwise you are truly ignorant. I’ve visited several times and when I do, I spend significant time there. I don’t just go sit somewhere at a posh resort so I’ve seen it.

Lance Owens

July 12, 2021

Amazingly well written blog Beth,
I have known you for years, and know how much you “give” to the community and to your peers. You speak the truth, wish I had written it!
Thank you.

Karola

July 15, 2021

It’s sad to have such negativity directed at those that were seriously considering moving to your exquisite state. We had heard the rumors that “mainlanders” were not welcome in Hawaii but had a difficult time believing such a magnificent place would have such hostility. We have always respected the land, the people, the culture, and have always thirst for more knowledge and communication each time we visited. These are the reasons we wanted to move to one or more of your islands.

We are now reconsidering our move and purchasing, due to the unwelcomed impression you leave. We’ve always taught our children and family to respect and honor your paradise. It breaks my heart now to learn how insincere the treatment we received must have been.

If in the future we decide to try once again to break through the “wall” to residency on one of your islands I’m certain we will not wish to engage with a Realtor who brings such negativity to owning and settling there. We’ve followed Hawaii Life’s listings and television shows for some time prior to our previous decision to move there. It’s unfortunate to now understand we would not be welcome.

Our hope in the future is that your, your company’s, and your state’s, views on people moving to Hawaii will become more open and welcoming to those who fell in love with and have always honored and respected your state. That is the whole reason we wanted to move there.

It’s just sad.

K

Beth Thoma Robinson, R(B)

July 15, 2021

> Hi Karola, thank you for taking the time to respond in such detail to my post. These thoughts in no way should reflect on the company Hawaii Life or on any other agent; they are mine alone. I know among our 300+ agents there would be many who you would be comfortable working with to realize your dream.

It sounds like you have worked hard at being a respectful visitor to our islands and that is awesome. People here genuinely appreciate that, and I am sure you have experienced sincere connection and aloha in your time here.

Iʻm not someone whose goal is to sell as much as possible at the expense of my integrity. When I work with someone to move here, I am committed to that being a successful move. If you buy a lot intending to build, Iʻll give you the “bad news” of how long it might take and the difficulties you are likely to encounter up front. If you fall in love with a home but I know there are barking dogs right next door, Iʻll tell you. That way you can making your decision without any surprises.

I offer my observations on the current mood regarding newcomers, and my positive suggestions for how to overcome that as a newcomer, out of the same commitment.
Aloha
Beth

It is out of that integrity and commitment to my clients and readers that I am making sure you know the mood of Hawaiʻi is indeed less welcoming right now. There are many other places where you can read similar articles.

Gloria Squitiro

July 16, 2021

Thank you for taking the time to write a helpful “manual” on becoming a resident of Hawaii.

We are living in a global world now, and it’s always best to be mindful of the culture. That is, afterall, why we’d want to locate there.

I especially love your tip about giving back.

If/when I ever live out my dream of living in Hawaii part time, I will try to do as you say. I was a midwife in a former life, and recently helped “midwife” someone over to the other side. The experiences are practically the same. So, when my dream plays out, I will try to volunteer my time helping people who have no one else to sit with them as they cross to the other side.

Thank you for helping me fit into a place I long to be. All love.

Iven

July 16, 2021

I love visiting the islands. It’s the people I don’t like. Went on a Hana tour and the whole time we were on the bus the driver discussed her disdain for whitey. Ignorance runs rampant on the islands.

Gabriela

July 17, 2021

I enjoyed, in many ways, to read your thrue writing, a lot. Very pointed. Mahalo.
God bless you!

Lindsay Schnebly

July 29, 2021

Beth,

Some great advice, and thanks for taking the time to do this! My wife and I met with a college friend of mine who now lives on Kauai. And she warned us about the very things you mention.

It seems like common sense, really, to contribute something to the community in which one lives.

I guess anytime things involve cultural issues and traditions, life can get a little sticky to those seen as outsiders. The human condition.

Mahalo for your insights!

David Pearson

July 29, 2021

The “Tourist” Come to Hawaii, and try to make it like where they are from.
They do Not Want to Understand Locals or Customs of Hawaii
They think Hawaii is just another Disneyland and they can do whatever they want
and have No Respect for Hawaii or Rules. Tourism is a BANE and the Destruction of Hawaii – And the Rich come Just to BUY IT, so now housing is too expensive for the average Local – But this Is a World Wide Problem – Of the “Ugly Anmerican”

Beth Thoma Robinson, R(B)

July 29, 2021

> Thanks for adding your perspective David

Lynnette Ann Iverson

August 3, 2021

> This is an ignorant comment lumping all “tourists” into the same group. When I visit Hawaii I am not a tourist. I am a US citizen who has spent my hard earned money so I can VISIT another US state. I AM respectful. Not because it’s Hawaii, I am respectful because I was raised correctly to know that I should conduct myself in a respectful manner regardless of where I go. If you don’t like the tourists you encounter, that’s because they are likely disgusting and vile people. Those people will act that way everywhere they go and they likely act that way at home where they live also. Unfortunately there is no way to escape those people. Those types even live right next door to me here in Wisconsin and being a disgusting and vile person is not a crime so we are ALL forced to deal with them. Stop blaming tourists as a whole. It’s not a true assessment. I love Hawaii but my love is beginning to diminish because Hawaii is becoming filled with disgusting and vile locals who treat us respectful visitors poorly.

Jane Rothmund

July 29, 2021

Good comments. I too live on an island where the lifestyle is slower. It annoys me to no end when newbies complain about the speed of service, or the speed of traffic. If you don’t like our lifestyle, go back to where you came from.

Beth Thoma Robinson, R(B)

July 29, 2021

> Thank you for adding your perspective Jane

james chen

August 18, 2021

I agree with the general sentiment on the whole, in terms of “doing as the Romans do”. Millionaires and Billionaires should give a significant degree of deference to a prideful, conquered people who have proud history; however, some of the recent local hostility does go too far…

Be deferential but stand up for yourself when you must. Respect cannot be given, it must be earned…if you let the locals walk all over you, they will never respect you.

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