In Hawaii, it is customary to remove your shoes before you enter someone’s home. As such, it is not uncommon to be met with a gentle reminder posted decoratively on a ceramic tile at the door that reads “Please remove your shoes, Mahalo!” Prolific at craft fairs and market stalls, this little message is a lesson in short for visitors unfamiliar with a tradition in Hawaii where we take our shoes/slippahs/flip flops off at the door!
Mahalo Means Thank You With Gratitude
A number of years ago I was showing property to a family from Washington. We spent a wonderful few days together viewing real estate, and at almost every listing we found that reminder sign at the door….”Please remove your shoes, Mahalo!” Over breakfast one morning, my client shared that for the longest time his children thought “Mahalo” meant take your shoes off! Mahalo is actually the Hawaiian word for “thank you.” >However, juxtaposed to every plea to take your shoes off it is an understandable confusion!
You may ask, but I thought “Aloha” meant thank you? You are not mistaken. Mahalo in translation means essentially thanks and in gratitude. Aloha and Mahalo are interchangeable in the sense of both meaning “thank you, please.”
Aloha, however, has a broader meaning (love, compassion, affection, salutation, compassion, grace, kindness, regards, sentiment, thanks) that allows for many uses, interchangeable with Mahalo, where Mahalo is more specifically “in gratitude” so not as broad in its definition and therefore not seen as often as the wide-ranging catch all “Aloha.”
Why People Take Off Their Shoes Before Entering a House
Back to the custom itself of taking one’s shoes off at the door. This was born in the early days of plantation workers who came to Hawaii from Japan, bringing their tradition of removing their shoes as they enter a household which became a tradition here, some add because of the red soil of the fields that were otherwise tracked in through the house with shoes left on.
As the old adage goes, “when in Rome do as the Romans do” and in Hawaii the custom stands, shoes off!…..and without resisting the pun, as a “footnote,” might I add the second half to the equation here…. leave with the shoes you came in with! This is not an opportunity to upgrade on footware. Or, as another gentle nudge in the way of a ceramic tile at the door might put it,
“Mahalo for removing your slippahs, but no take mo’ bettah ones when you leave!”