11: Cultural Differences

Cultural Practices and Customs in Hawai’i and the U.S.

Below is a list of some common cultural practices and customs in Hawai’i and the U.S. By learning about them before you arrive in Hilo, you will have an understanding why people say and do certain things.

Greetings: People in Hawai’i are very friendly. They tend to greet each other with a smile, sometimes a handshake or a hug or a kiss on the cheek, and a friendly “Hi, how are you?”, “What’s up?” or “Howzit?” These greetings are very common, and do not always require an answer. If an American friend greets you with “Hey, what’s going on?” and walks away, do not feel offended: it is a popular way of greeting. Also, the common phrase “See you later” is not necessarily an invitation for a visit, but a way to say “Goodbye.”

Use of Names: Americans are very informal, and usually address each other by their first names from the time they meet, even with elders and people of authority. Even your professors might tell you to call them by their first name! Do not feel uncomfortable when someone asks you to use his/her first name: it is normal. If you are in doubt about how to address someone, you should address him/her in a more formal way (such as “Professor Smith” or “Dr. Smith”) and wait for him/her to suggest that you use the first name. Do not be shy to ask people what they would like you to call them and to tell them what you would like them to call you.