As we approach the final days of 2020 with all of our holiday traditions upended, I find myself thinking about how binge-watching streamed TV shows replaced actual travel in my life. Maybe you watched the “Hawaii Life” reruns on HGTV, or some of my earlier blog post suggestions if you have not made your trek to Hawaii this year. And while some of us have not traveled at all in 2020, it was a record year in real estate, as scores of people moved to Hawaiʻi, committed to moving here soon, or are spending more time at a home they own in Hawaiʻi.
The “great migration” of 2020 brought relocating professionals and families to previously quiet or “vacation home” Mainland communities around Lake Tahoe, in Aspen and Vail, and even Austin, Texas. While there may be some modest culture shock relocating from Silicon Valley to Austin…I have been reflecting that moving from Silicon Valley to Mānoa Valley is more like…well, Emily moving from Chicago to Paris in the Netflix series “Emily in Paris.”
Emily in Paris: Stereotypes and the Germ of Truth
The Netflix series “Emily in Paris” is lightweight but appealed to me for the same reason I watch shows that take place in Manhattan or other places I have lived and worked: it brings back memories of time spent in those places. The French critics panned the show for the unfair/outdated stereotypes of Parisians and their lifestyle, and yet exactly what makes the show fun is that its presentation of the hapless American who arrives with zero command of the language and expects everything to work just as it does in Chicago is equally a parody.
Relocating is always a challenge. I remember my shock when I arrived in NYC and did not understand simple things, like the protocol for ordering coffee. The harried deli worker asked “regular?” and I thought “as opposed to decaf?” not realizing that I was about to get a coffee with milk and sugar. Poor Emily expecting to get a cappuccino in the afternoon!
Despite Emilyʻs initial rocky start, she finds a handful of allies who like her are not originally from Paris and who are willing to help her learn the customs and perspective of her new home. Eventually she wins over her work colleagues as clients begin to appreciate what her skills and fresh perspective bring.
Many of us real estate brokers working with a relocating family or individual try to play that “ally” role. We might invite our client to an annual community event (Lionʻs Club Luau in Hawi!) or non-profit fundraiser (Habitat for Humanity Gala in Kona!) to begin meeting neighbors and getting a sense of their new community. We stay in touch to answer questions about what to bring to a first birthday celebration, or the protocol for giving a lei to a graduate.
How to be a Dignified “Malihini” or Newcomer to Hawaiʻi
But hereʻs the rub: how do you integrate into your new life in Hawaiʻi when events are canceled, gatherings are limited, and, to be honest, newcomers are being viewed with a certain suspicion (Did they just get off the plane? Did they come from a high-infection place?) and even hostility. Look at it from the local perspective: the stateʻs unemployment rate is at 15%; many small businesses have permanently closed, hitting our rural communities especially hard; and yet real estate is booming. Like Emily, you want to contribute, but you donʻt know what you donʻt know and you donʻt know how to start to bridge the culture gap.
As a visitor, you have been embraced with hoʻokipa, the spirit of hospitality and aloha, treated as an honored guest. But as the ʻōlelo noʻeau (proverb) says: Hoʻokahi nō lā a ka malihini. You are only a visitor, a newcomer, for a day. Once you make the leap to live here, you canʻt just stay on the receiving end of aloha; it is time to jump up and wash the dishes without being asked, to be a part of the ʻohana, to contribute to the community and care for its needs.
Years ago I learned the term “dignified beginner”…we all have to start somewhere, right? No shame in being a newcomer. A few years ago my colleague Julie Keller wrote a series of blog posts on “how fo ack” — not a bad place to start on the basics from how to introduce yourself, to the customs around bringing food to a gathering (please never show up at someoneʻs home empty-handed!). Thatʻs the simple level of respect for local customs.
There are plenty of opportunities to volunteer. Many organizations continue weekly food assistance programs — go pack boxes or help with deliveries to kupuna (seniors) and meet some neighbors. Join a volunteer work day caring for the ʻāina (land) in the area where you now reside.
Where you go after the baby steps…depends on you. The pandemic has turned long-term planning goals into near term priorities, and there is a good chance that either through your business skill set or your philanthropy and volunteer efforts, you can make a real contribution to your new home, to Hawaiʻiʻs future. A good rule of thumb is to listen first, then offer to help. Maybe what worked elsewhere will work here, but please strive to understand “here” first.
If you start with good intentions, a willingness to be humble and learn from your inevitable mistakes, and an open mind and heart to embracing the differences that make Hawaiʻi special, like Emily you will quickly find your allies and place.
Wishing my readers a very happy New Year – Hauʻoli Makahiki Hou!