Hawaii Weather Today: High 86, Low 71
The Paradox of Paradise
(Thanks for today’s title, Marianne!)
Last Sunday The Maui News http://mauinews.com/ ran an article about how the country of France has decided its people are too rude. They have begun a billboard campaign in bus and train stations to encourage people to be more courteous. It cited the statistic that France is the world’s most visited country (I didn’t know that, did you?) and the French needed to step up their game with the tourists. We just happened to have French friends staying here. I asked Maxim what he thought. He said he agreed with the article and that basically it was a sad commentary on their nation.
At least the French know they have a problem, and they are, afterall, mostly French. Here in Hawaii the lines are blurred, in that it’s a melting-pot of cultures, with each being represented at roughly ten percent. I didn’t know that before I moved here. Did you?
Today I was at Kaiser for a doctors appointment. I have a wicked tennis elbow and in fact can barely type anymore. (I got an I-Pad and am learning to dictate to it, so there’s hope for this blog). Anyway, as the nurse’s aide was taking my vitals she looked me up and down and said in pidgin, “So where you from…Wailea?”
Well. You have to live here to know how rude that was. She might just as well have said, “How much money you got, Haole lady?” And the silly part was I was wearing a $29 dress off a sale rack that was missing it’s belt, and a pair of $22 sandals from Marshall’s. I had on no jewelry, no usual markers of wealth or status, (though it’s normal to see local girls/women with 3-5 gold bracelets piled up their arms, with Hawaiian words carved into them…words like kuuipo; sweetheart). Because I am haole and I’m not in shorts and a tank top, the aide assumes I’m prosperous. She thinks I live in Wailea, also known as Haolewood. But I just smile, because she doesn’t even realize how rude it is.
This is part of the paradox, this type of racism. After all these years, it still catches me by surprise. If a Filipino lady had come in with her Chanel bag and large diamond the question never would have been asked. Case in point: the “local” lady in a blue silk dress and high heels at Taco Bell today. No one is ever going to ask her if she’s from Wailea. (If you haven’t been to Maui, Wailea is the chi-chi area. Except I can’t really say that, because in Hawaii chi-chi means “to go potty”.) Go figure.
Until you have lived in Hawaii these nuances are hard to fathom. People think they know what it’s like here because they vacation here. But until you live it day to day, year after year, and experience the many, many layers, and realize it’s pretty much a foreign country, it’s hard to explain to someone else. Just like anywhere I suppose, except I don’t think a New Yorker is going to say to every Black person, “So you live in Harlem right?”
I was in LA one time and a waiter in a coffee shop said he could tell I wasn’t from there. How? Because I had short hair at the time and wasn’t carrying a $1,200 bag? Elsewhere, it’s considered wise to always look your best. For a haole in Maui, it’s a minefield…if you’re not careful you’ll be taken for a tourist, or worse, a realtor!
And if luck is really against you, you’ll be accused of being from Wailea. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a really nice place. I have done lots of interior design work there in high-end homes. Clint Eastwood has a home on the beach there. It’s that kind of place.
In her book “The Descendants,” set in Hawaii, Kaui Hart Hemmings describes an encounter between the main character and a Chinese gift shop owner. It says, “A Chinese woman enters the shop and stands behind the register…She is wearing a muumuu over navy polyester pants. She looks like she has escaped from an insane asylum.”
With what seems like about nineteen cultures represented in full force in Hawaii, it’s hard to know what’s considered normal for each culture. A neighbor girl moved here from the Phillipines and plied me with questions about daily life in Maui. She made this observation about Maui: “No one dresses here when they leave the house. They all look like slobs. Where I’m from, you have clothes you wear at home and clothes you wear out. Why don’t they do that here?” I couldn’t answer her question, but apparently, a cotton dress and sandals were too much for this haole girl’s doctor’s appointment.
A hui hou (til next time). If you’d like to subscribe to this blog, please click the Follow button on the Homepage.