Nine Tourist “Tells”

Kaua’i welcomes tourists with open arms and aloha. We know we live in a very special, very beautiful place, and that people spend lots of money to come here to experience the island, even if it’s just for a week. We want all our visitors to have a positive experience, and make wonderful memories.

After three years here, I’m still taken for a tourist now and then. I’m pale and pretty much look like I just stepped off the plane from the mainland (I don’t tan, and also have to watch how much time I spend in the sun). Brett has a nice tan, but we’re still occasionally asked where we’re visiting from, or how long we’re staying. However, more often than not these days we’re recognized as kamaaina (residents).

Being a pale haole (white) is not something that automatically marks someone as a tourist though as whites make up over 30% of the island’s population, and not all have a tan. What does make visitors stand out from locals are their actions and behavior, which are often markedly in contrast to local culture and customs, and are the equivalent of carrying a sign saying “I am a tourist.”

Here are the tourist “tells” our family came up with. The hardest part was admitting that we did some of these things too once upon a time:

  1. In a hurry. The island pace of life is slower than it is on the mainland, so when someone’s in a hurry, there’s a better than good chance he or she is a tourist. We get that people are only here for a week or so and want to see and do it all, but slowing down lets you experience one of the things that makes life in Hawai’i so special.
  2. Traveling in packs, and being loud. Visitors almost always come here with family and friends, and we understand that they want to spend time together, but moving in a pack on the sidewalk or through stores and making everyone else move is not cool. Also, people in Hawai’i generally talk softly, so loud voices really stands out.
  3. Pronouncing the name of the island “Kow-ee.” It’s Kah-wah-ee. We’ve been genuinely shocked by how many times we’ve heard the first pronunciation.
  4. Too dressed up or matchy-matchy. Kaua’i is casual. When we see someone with lots of jewelry, or a perfectly coordinated outfit, chances are very good they’re a tourist.
  5. Wearing expensive sport sandals: Slippahs (flip flops) are the name of the game here, and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with wearing cheap slippahs either.
  6. Not using the crosswalks. Year-round, we typically have to stop two or three times on every trip through Kapaa for tourists who can’t be bothered to walk a few feet down to the crosswalk, where we and every other local driver would stop when they see them waiting to cross (see “In a hurry”).
  7. Not slowing down to let people turn into the highway or make a left turn. We have one mostly two-lane highway around the island, and in cities like Kapaa or Lihue it can be hard at times to turn into the highway from businesses along the road, or to make a left turn, depending on the traffic. There aren’t many stoplights or stop signs on the highway either. Local drivers will often slow down or stop to let someone make a turn or come onto the highway. Maybe visitors don’t know that letting someone in might earn them a shaka!
  8. Costco carts loaded with big bottles of liquor, wine and/or beer. We understand that visitors don’t want to have to drive to Costco from Princeville or Poipu more than once while they’re here, but having enough liquor in their cart to open their own store is a dead giveaway they’re not from around here, even if they are wearing a DejaVu surf shirt and already have a tan.
  9. Driving a convertible or a shiny new Jeep. This is probably the number one indicator that someone is a tourist. Locals don’t drive convertibles, and very, very few drive new Jeeps. There’s a reason these two cars are broken into more often than any other type of car on the island.

We were guilty of a few of these on our first trip to the island, although we’ve never mispronounced Kaua’i, always use a crosswalk, and don’t buy tons of liquor. I’m not sure we’ve ever been accused of dressing too nicely either. We did drive a Jeep on our first trip though.

Again, we enjoy having tourists visit Kaua’i, and want them to have a wonderful time while they’re here, spend lots of money, and make wonderful memories. We’re not judging them either – honestly. But after being here for a while we have noticed that they self-identify pretty easily.

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8 thoughts on “Nine Tourist “Tells”

    • Laura says:

      I don’t wear shorts either – I wear comfortable, baggy linen cropped pants year-round. Lots of people here wear sneakers versus flip-flops when they’re out and about, but it’s the Tevas and Keens vs. flip-flops that are the tourist giveaway. Most people wear flip-flops though.

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  1. Laurel says:

    Haha…interesting list. I guess we were ‘guilty’ of a couple last fall when we visited the Big Island. I am always walking fast – it’s just my nature. But I didn’t notice myself slowing down and caring less about what I wore as the week went on. However, my feet just won’t tolerate flip flops anymore, as much as I would love to wear them. But I can see how these would be great tells. 🙂

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      • Laura says:

        I can’t wear regular flip-flops any more – these days I wear Olu Kai because they have such a nice cushioned sole. I have almost no padding on the bottom of my feet, so regular flip-flops are very painful are just a few minutes.

        It’s very casual here, surprisingly so to many people. It’s interesting for us when we’re down on the south side, and go to the Kukuiula mall (one of those open air ones) and see all the people in their high-end outfits and jewelry. It screams “tourist.”

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      • JJ says:

        I haven’t heard of Olu Kai, but I’m going to give those a try. I can’t wear flip flops due to problems with the arches in my feet that require a lot of arch support, but I was just reading that Olu Kai has an orthotic footbed, so I’m curious if I’ll be able to wear them. I actually haven’t been able to wear sandals in years and really miss them!

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  2. quesoit1 says:

    You nailed it! Based on my own observations, those are all funny but true tourist “tells.”

    When I visit my relatives in Hawai’i I usually do something or other that marks me as un-local in their eyes. When I do things like forgetting to take my footwear off when I enter the house, or coming in through the front door instead of the back, they tease me about being “haolefied.”

    By the way, would you consider “haole” and “haolefied” to be offensive? My husband, who is Caucasian, doesn’t mind being called a haole, but as mainlanders we probably don’t have a good sense of whether those are currently considered derogatory terms in Hawai’i.

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    • Laura says:

      I’m pretty sure we still do some things that mark us as “not from around here.” We have the shoes off thing down though – we learned to take off our shoes in Japan and never gave it up.

      I don’t mind being called haole unless it’s preceded by the F word 😳, but I know of a few who think it’s a very racist term, even though they’ve never had it directed at them.

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