Whenever you're traveling to a new place, you need to make sure you have a firm grasp on the local customs and etiquette. It's easy to accidentally offend someone and not even realize you've done anything wrong, especially when you're in a place that has different social rules. Though Hawaii is a U.S. state, it's remote location, relatively new state status and dense native population all mean that it has some different rules than you'll find on the mainland. Here are five little things you can do to show you've put forth an effort into respecting Hawaiian culture:
1. Don't refuse or remove a lei
In Hawaiian culture, leis are a symbol of luck, happiness and prosperity. If someone gives you a lei, they're wishing you a happy life. That's why it's polite to graciously accept the accessory, and thank them for the offer. Refusing is considered incredibly rude, so avoid it, if possible. If you have an allergy and you're worried about getting a reaction, the best way to decline is to explain the situation, apologize that you're unable to accept and to thank them regardless.
If you accept a lei, wait until you're out of sight of the gift-giver to remove it. Ideally, you would wait until you're back in your Hawaii rental home, but sometimes that isn't realistic. However, removing it in front of the person who gave it to you will appear insulting.
2. Take off your shoes
When you're invited into someone's home, it's good etiquette to take off your shoes before entering. Most people in Hawaii do this so they don't track dirt or sand into their house. If you're not sure whether or not you should, it's OK to ask. Not comfortable bringing the situation up? Follow the host's cue. If he or she goes barefooted or with just socks in the house, you should do the same.
3. Leave the lava rocks alone
If you're planning on picking up a souvenir while exploring some of Hawaii's volcanic parks, make sure you get it from the gift shop. Stealing lava rocks from Hawaiian parks is exactly that – stealing. Moreover, many people believe that rocks taken from Hawaii are actually cursed, and that, if you take one, you'll be plagued with bad luck until you return it. It's a better bet to simply leave the rocks where they are.
4. Respect hula
Hula dancing is a serious part of Hawaiian culture. It's used as parts of celebrations and spiritual ceremonies, and it has a long history and tradition. If you see people hula dancing at a party or event, don't laugh or point. If you're interested in the dance, you may ask someone how to do it and give it a try. If you don't want to dance yourself, simply appreciate the opportunity to see real hula in action.
5. Keep your distance from wildlife
Hawaii is full of lots of interesting wildlife, much of which is endangered. As a result, it's both rude and illegal to get too close to or touch monk seals, humpback whales or sea turtles. While you can (and should) enjoy getting to see these animals in their natural habitat, make sure you're leaving them plenty of space.
If you plan to go animal spotting, bring along a pair of binoculars. These will give you the opportunity to get an up-close look at these endangered creatures without the need to actually get close to them. Not only will this help keep you and the creatures safe, it will also give you a glimpse at how they live when undisturbed.