Town and country in Hawaii: What’s the difference?


Zippys in Kapolei, a little bit country and a little bit town

Those who visit Hawaii make assumptions first based upon where they live, however briefly on vacation, or over a short period of time.  Those assumptions will often turn into generalizations based upon experiencing one region of the islands, when there are various cultures and lifestyles that represent Hawaii.  For what is true in downtown Honolulu or Waikiki may be entirely different in Makaha.

It is important therefore to be cautious in making broad generalizations about Hawaii, when there are unique patterns in a particular area of the islands that affect dress, style, and even food choices and price.

Regional differences must be examined carefully, as those regions of difference represent what may be only a few miles from the urban core but many more miles away in culture and attitude.

Downtown Honolulu is in many ways similar to major American cities in how people dress and interact with one another.  Those familiar with local culture, who have been born and raised in Hawaii, may interact in more casual ways; but there are more formal interactions than would take place in the rural areas.  The attorney who speaks pidgin with his buddies in Waipahu will speak the veritable King’s English when  in downtown Honolulu and interacting with people from a variety of backgrounds.   The businessman in Waianae is apt to dress in jeans and tee shirt, in a similar style as his customers.  The woman who owns a dress shop in Kapolei may be semi-casual but is careful to reflect not just her business of fashion but the area where she works.

The “townies,” as some locals refer to those folks living in the urban core, which is Honolulu and its close geographical areas, are apt to live in small apartments, walk or take buses to work, and shop with an eye to saving, as the cost of almost anything is more expensive in Honolulu than in Wahiawa or Waianae.  Those visitors expecting friends to live in a house with lots of furniture and other possessions in a neat, organized pattern are apt to be surprised that people live, and live well, in small spaces with fewer needs and wishes, and even those in a compact style.  What may seem like clutter to a person with a house and lots of storage spaces is simply living with what is, and that means less space for everything.  So everything is apt to be stuffed in closets or in neat, little piles everywhere.

In the country areas houses are larger than in town but are smaller and more expensive by the square foot than comparable homes on the mainland.  In reality there is virtually no house available on Oahu except in the back roads of very poor areas  that would be priced under $300,000.  Someone looking for a house will find a newer home in a middle class neighborhood to be $600,000 to $700,000 of a rural area and more for a dwelling of 1500 square feet or less.  Larger homes are often occupied by various family members who help with the mortgage or they have been traded up by people who have lived in Hawaii many years and who have accumulated the money to buy them.

The country culture is relaxed, informal and dress is modest, as is food and other items for everyday living.  The local folk maintain country culture is more accepting as well, however that acceptance comes to a newbie who offers the hand of friendship in a meaningful and honest way.  Local folks have had enough experience with the wayfaring strangers who have taken advantage of people, considering innocence may be wedded to ignorance when they do so, and so are careful at the outset to embrace folks who have not lived, worked and been around for awhile.  That is also because it is fairly well known that the average person who comes to live in Hawaii stays an average of three years and then leaves when the glow of paradise is met with the realities of making changes in living style that some cannot do.

Living in Hawaii can be expensive, or less expensive, depending on one’s attitude.  Live local style, eat simply, walk when others are driving, shop at the thrift stores and make friends who like to swim and have fun outdoors; and one can live out a lifetime in Hawaii.  It is also important to continuously make friends, because of the high turnover of people in Hawaii who come and go, which includes some local folks as well.  Young people seek adventure and therefore leave, given the fact the islands are small enough that many experience those adventures growing up and are ready to see more somewhere else.  In addition, the focus is less on education and making it big in the corporate world in Hawaii than in many mainland places, so there is a tendency for many younger workers in the islands to leave to seek their fortunes in another place where they may have more opportunity to transition to higher paying jobs than at home in Hawaii.  For competition is keen for jobs that pay very well by Hawaii standards, given the numbers of people seeking to live in Hawaii and those already here looking for those good jobs so he or she can be near family and friends.  So lowering one’s expectations and living simply can mean the difference between someone who stays for a lifetime and one who leaves in three years or less.  One of those ways of living on less is living in the country.

Country people know they have to drive more, stay on the road longer than others and give up the fast life of entertainment and glitz for living modestly and making one’s own entertainment or being satisfied with an evening’s worth of music at the local restaurant bar, as occurs at Tacos and More on Farrington Highway in Waianae.  Even then the regular entertainment is irregular, just as are special events.  Yet there is a close enough relationships among members of a rural community, that the latest happening can happen through communication done by the coconut wireless, that wonderful way of passing along news from one person speaking to another.  Country folks do not live large but have larger places to live than those closer to town, yet even as the homes are bigger, they are seldom as large as they would be in a country place in the mainland of the United States.  The informality of living and the fact that neighbors know one another and share are the main attractions for those living in the country.

Within both the “townie” and country culture, there are also variations of living.  For example, Kailua, located over the Pali from Honolulu, has both town and country features.  It has more formality than Waianae, the prices are much higher, and the people who live there earn more on average than country folk on the West side of Oahu.  It is one of those areas that mixes cultural styles, and it is better to err on the side of moderation, expecting to pay more, to dress a little more formally and to interact in a casual, but somewhat more formal way with shopkeepers and local folk.  Variations continue on the outer islands as well, with Kona being somewhat more formal than Hilo on the Big Island with the respective prices different with everything from homes to plate lunches.

Whether it is living “townie’ or country, living in Hawaii means adapting to different ways and not characterizing the islands as homogeneous in belief or way of life.  But no matter how one lives or where, the major interest in adapting to a new place is to do so introspectively and with a willingness to wait to make judgments that require living within a culture over a period of time and interacting with a variety of folk, just as it is in living anywhere else.



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