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….*
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
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*
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.