Once at a fancy restaurant I watched the wait staff run the entire time I was sipping my guava juice and nibbling French toast. The maître d’ was orchestrating it all with a glance, a raised eyebrow, a slight head tilt, and the staff was hopping! I was so impressed with the service I was checking out their shoes, wondering if they had special soles that gave them superhuman ability to carry a loaded tray, pour coffee, and take orders simultaneously. While this amazing ballet was going on, at the table next to me a foursome was enthusiastically waxing on about how laid-back everyone in Hawaii was, how easy it must be to live here, no pressure, people practically live at the beach.
Huh? Did they not recognize that everyone baking in the sun at Waikiki was from Minnesota? It takes serious snow to get that shade of pale.
Chances are if tourists are at the beach, the locals are busy at work. Those guys you see by the beach pavilion? Life guards, tour guides, surf instructors, grounds maintenance…
Hawaii has the highest cost of living of any state in the union, but wages average somewhere in the bottom third. Consequently people often work two or more jobs to make rent. Multi-generational households are common because the cost of a modest three bedroom “starter” home begins around $700,000—and that usually doesn’t include the land. Most homes are lease-hold, meaning someone else owns the land and you just rent the right to build and maintain a house on it at your expense for the next 30 years.
Believe me, islanders know all about working hard and saving for a rainy day.
But because things are so expensive and space is at a premium, people don’t tend to care much about stuff. In Hawaii the relentless pursuit of things—signs of ambition and progress in the west—is less important than building relationships with people. Spending time talking with family and friends, doing things as a community, not stressing over things that aren’t important in the long run—that’s what I think visitors are really seeing and why they confuse laid back with lazy—as another umbrella drink magically appears.
Next: #5 Going to Hawaii is like stepping back into a simpler time.