Skip to primary navigation Skip to content Skip to footer
Back to Blog

What not to do in Hawaii: The Rules

Just like anywhere else, Hawaii has its own set of unwritten – and written rules – that dictate human behavior, courtesy, respect and safety. By reading up on these tips of what not to do while in Hawaii on vacation, you can ensure a smoother transition and happier encounters.

• You don’t have to wait for a red light to turn green before taking a right. Go ahead and take it unless a sign says not to.
• Don’t call the Continental U.S. “the states”…we’re a state too last we checked! In fact, we were named the 50th state in 1959.
• Don’t put sugar on poi. Just trust us on this one.
• Refrain from shouting “what?” to the locals. It sounds threatening and won’t put them in a good mood.
• Keep your hands off the car horn unless it’s to alert someone to an emergency. Honking out of frustration or rage won’t endear you to the locals.
• Don’t call local males “mokes” or females “ tita” – both terms are offensive.
• When asking directions, refer to the makai (toward the sea) and mauka (toward the mountains) rather than the usual north, south, east, west.
• Don’t rush your tan. You’re (hopefully) here for at least a week. Don’t ruin it all in one day just in an attempt to look good. You’ll only achieve the opposite and stick out like a sore thumb.
• Don’t show disrespect for Hawaiian culture by sunbathing nude on public beaches. There are some beaches or portions of beaches where this is legal, which might be a better fit for you.
• Say “neighbor islands” rather than “outer islands” when referring to anyplace other than Oahu.
• Be sure to take your shoes off before entering someone’s home. It is a sign of respect; some homes even remind you with a small sign at the entrance.
• Don’t move, remove or otherwise disturb any natural formations such as rocks and shells, from any kind of cultural site, marine preserve or temple.
• Always take a flower lei with a kiss; to do otherwise is rude. Just as you would say thank you to someone who did something nice for you, you should also accept a lei graciously.
• In the same vein, don’t insult the presenter by taking off the lei due to the hot weather or because it messed your hair-do.
• Always bring a housewarming gift when invited to someone’s island home – not just initially but every time.
• Don’t attempt the local language – pidgin – if you don’t know it. Just don’t.
• Leave the Honu, otherwise known as green sea turtles, alone. They are an endangered species and to touch or taunt them could mean fines for you. Instead, appreciate from afar.
• Don’t leave valuables, luggage, phones and money in your rental car while off on an excursion, shopping or on the beach. Thieves target tourist areas – don’t be the next victim.
• Don’t ignore acts of kindness or courtesy while driving. If someone lets you pull out in front of them, give them a friendly wave of recognition.

Want to learn more about the local customs of Oahu? Come with us on a Circle Island Tour through Hoku Hawaii Tours!

Also visit Pearl Harbor!