Above, an early morning view from Makena Beach at Mākena State Park on the island of Maui, HI.
“The tourist takes his culture with him. The traveler leaves his behind.” ― J.R. Rim
Everybody seems to be taking a vacation these days. I was lucky enough to take my first (and hopefully not last) trip to Maui this month, along with tens of thousands of others who passed their COVID-19 tests. Yes, it was delightful. From now on I will be referring to my back porch as the lenai.
Hawaiians have hospitality down to an art. You’ll find them to be welcoming and friendly, even if at times they probably don’t want to be. I learned about their aloha spirit, which isn’t just a gimmick, it’s part of their culture. “Aloha” is used as both a hello and goodbye, and expresses wishes for a positive and respectful life, love for one another, and to live in harmony with everything around you. Aloha is more of something you experience than an expression. At least that’s what the brochures say, right?
Above: Author Jessica de la Cruz enjoys the view above the clouds from the top of Haleakala, an extinct volcano on the island of Maui.
Truthfully, the feeling probably isn’t much more genuine than the last time you heard “thank you, have a nice day” from your local gas station clerk. Like anywhere, “thank you” can seem disingenuous when mumbled with a frown. Believe me, I heard a few very unenthusiastic “mahalos.”
In some respects it was like being a tourist anywhere else. Just listen for the telltale “Where are you folks from?” Read beyond the niceties of that question and the jig is up. You’re a tourist. They know. And sometimes they want you to know, they know.
It didn’t surprise me to be singled out pretty quickly. I seem to give off that Vitamin-D deficient vibe no matter where I go. But even back home, we can spot a Minnesota or Illinois visitor without even checking a license plate, am I right? And we don’t always speak of these visitors kindly, or treat them as if our local economies depended on their tourism dollars. We could use a little aloha spirit, frankly, even if we had to fake it.
Carl Buehner once said, “They may forget what you said—but they will never forget how you made them feel.”
I recall a trip to the Netherlands when I was in my early twenties. I took a bus to a zoo, and stumbled helplessly through the Dutch menu board at the lunch stand. With limited Dutch and not wanting to take up the clerk’s time, I remember asking her if she had something like a sandwich or a hamburger.
“This isn’t McDonalds,” was the clerk’s response, in crystal clear English. I’m pretty sure I skipped lunch. And the conversation left such an impression that I still remember it twenty years later.
In hindsight, I should have embraced what they had to offer. I get it. I’m sure she would have rather had me ask “what’s a Frikandel?” Then she could have enjoyed the experience of introducing me to something new.
Author Jessica de la Cruz (left) with her daughter Ally and mother Patti, enjoying a snorkel boat tour off the coast of Maui this March.
Her Dutch directness aside, as Americans we do have a bit of a reputation for acting like entitled teenagers when we travel. We want what’s familiar. We expect to be catered to. It’s not in our nature to want to experience life as others do, much less appreciate that experience. And that is the feeling we often leave people with. We’ve all felt that from tourists, haven’t we?
As hosts here in northern Wisconsin, I’ve seen us preemptively apologizing to our visitors for our lack of wifi or cell signal, our casual style, or the one modest restaurant we have in town. Other times we silently resent that anyone would expect anything to be open on a Sunday. Maybe these aren’t things we should be apologizing for, but embracing.
What I’ve learned from being both visitor and host, locally and abroad, is that visitors only know what they see advertised. Not that I’m suggesting any village embrace the slogan, “Three bars, one restaurant, and no stoplights.” Tourists just need to be introduced to our way of life. There’s a lot to know–fewer choices, the slower pace, the modest décor, the bathroom marked ‘Bucks’ is the men’s room, and that Uber app isn’t going to get you anywhere in the northwoods. But I bet they’d also love to learn about your great local foods, what your name is and what you like to do, or about the off-the-beaten-path places they might enjoy. And if they like those things, however simple they seem, they’ll keep coming back for more. Especially when they need a break from their busy lives.
Aloha. After all, it’s all about how you make them feel, right?
Mahalo for reading. 😊 Feel free to send me your thoughts, or let me know about what’s happening in your neck of the woods. I’d love to hear from you! Email Jessica@northinfocus.com.