Tag Archives: local culture in Hawaii

Nursing in Hawaii blog is still on Hiatus while I’m in #Nepal until May 30

Thank you for wandering into this blog site!

Though it’s titled Nursing in Hawaii, most of it is devoted to general advice about nursing. There are three blog entries that seem to get the most hits – look on the list at the right and you can see them in all their glory.

Work in Hawaii?

I do have specific advice for nurses from the mainland who want to work in Hawaii. In summary, if you enjoy the cultural stuff, you will love it here. You can maximize your fun by studying the different cultures of the patients and co-workers you will meet. Browse the blog entries to find the gems…. I love Hawaii!


You may wondering why the blog is suspended. Well, the answer is, I have been following a lifelong dream and working in Nepal for a year. I am making a difference in health care in this country, and every day I thank God for designing my life so I can do this.

Read my Book?

My second book is a novel about Nepal health care. It’s titled The Sacrament of the Goddess, and there is a FaceBook page for it. Click here to get to the Amazon site.  Also I have another blog, just for the book.

The book is enjoying popularity here in Nepal, as crazy as that sounds. Want to read a review in Nepali language?

I will return to USA after May 30th.



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part one: Guide to Hawaiian culture for the Travelling Nurse

I invite you to subscribe to this blog. Click on the  little button to the right. Enjoy the hyperlinks, this entry would be nothing without them!

Exotic Hawaii?

I have a friend from the mainland who thinks Hawaii is really really exotic. and I suppose, compared to Indiana, it is. Then again, Indiana would be considered exotic in its own way if an anthropologist from some other country were to visit there. For me, having lived in Nepal, the answer would be – no. Pretty bland compared to Patan. We wonder why people think Americans ( the WASP kind) are arrogant? it’s because they(we?)  assume that the yardstick culture, the frame of reference by which everything is to be judged, is the one “they” grew up in. (whoever they may be….)  There’s a great poster from Syracuse Cultural Workers that applies, here.

Images from TV

Ask yourself what your image of Hawaii is. Chances are it’s from television.  Or maybe the movies. The Chamber of Commerce here is alway thinking of ways to promote Hawaii on the mainland. It’s no accident that the Pro Bowl is played here. (In January when everyone else is freezing.) What is Hawaii like from the inside?

For Travelling Nurses

Anyway, there has always been a subculture within nursing, of Travellers. Nurses with specialized skills who come to Hawaii for an exotic experience.  Now that I have been here seven years, I feel comfortable enough to compile a quick guide to cross-cultural nursing as applied to Hawaii. Particularly Honolulu.  Every nurse that goes to nursing school here already has learned these things.

The first question is, How did everyone get here? Honolulu is the most “majority-minority” city in the USA, the only state where European descendants have never been in the majority. You expect to find Hawaiians here, and 40% of all Hawaiians in the world, live on Oahu, as is fitting. but they are now a minority.

Yes, this is an issue.


IMHO, the best book on Hawaiian culture is Peoples and Cultures of Hawaii, written by two guys from the John A Burns School of Medicine. UPDATE: I am pleased to report that a new edition of this was released in 2011 –  There is only one review of the 1980 edition written on Amazon, but I think that reviewer knew what he was talking about,  it is incredibly insightful. The book is a classic, I will run down to the store and get the new one!

From a sociological or anthropological perspective, nurses absolutely need to learn about and respect the culture of which ever person they are caring for.  Frankly, that has always been something I loved about nursing. The variety of manifestations of the human spirit is what makes earth a great place.

Most nursing school nowadays require students to buy and use a reference book on this topic. Many of these books have a section on Hawaiian culture.  And also about Nisei, and about Pacific Islanders and Samoans.  All well and good. There is a gap in the professional literature. When we assign students to ask about the culture of a given client, they sometimes come back and say

“Well, he said he is part Pordagee, Hawaiian, Chinese, Filipino and Swedish. What do I put down on the assessment form? do I have to look up all of them?”

“Nah, just put down ‘local’


So then the question becomes, “Is there a distinct culture known as ‘Local’ around here, and if so, what is it?”

It’s a chapter waiting to be written in the edition of all those cultural atlases. Take note: whoever wishes to tackle this can become famous in a scholarly way. I do have to warn you: this is a minefield of political correctness. Be prepared to be flamed.

I don’t think I am the one to write it, but I will give suggestions to whomever is brave enough to assume this task.


First, language. There is a specific dialect of English spoken here, known as “Pidgin.”  And yes, you will hear it spoken, but only if you listen carefully. Pidgin, or “local talk” is also, a loaded political subject, since the colonialist Americans tried to eradicate it. You can find it on YouTube.  Because of the musical inflection of pidgin, it is not possible for a person from the mainland to fake it and pretend they are local; but if you are here you need to learn  how to enjoy it. I also highly recommend the book “Pidgin to Da Max” as a hysterically funny guide to the subject. There are examples on YouTube.

I suppose that Rule Number One rule for any person from Da Mainland would be, never assume that a person speaking pidgin lacks intelligence. ( a terrific link!)  Think of pidgin as a whole different language which just happens to contain elements of English. In fact, college students often are able to slip in and out between the King’s English and Pidgin just as if they were two different languages.  The decision to use one or the other is very sophisticated, situationally driven, and a conscious one. Because of historical active discrimination against pidgin-speakers, if a bilingual Pidgin/English speaker thinks you are condescending toward them because of it, you will find your job here much more difficult. Trust me.

A student of mine who was Asian, had studied on the mainland ( Nebraska!) for a year, and she said that one of the reasons that she came home was, she was tired of the fact that the Nebraska-based students assumed she didn’t speak English well. She said that prior to that experience, she never considered whether Asian-Americans could be the subject of racism. It had simply never occurred to her.

The former Saint Francis Hospital had a rule about language: The official language of the hospital was English, and employees were forbidden to speak any other language in the daily conduct of their work. Think about that one. The patient population was multicultural in a dazzling way, though, and if the patient initiated the conversation, it was okay. The staff there was capable of greeting them in the same multitude of languages. Actually, it was something I loved about working there.

Rule Two

Which leads to rule number two: learn about the culture of your coworkers, just as much as you learn about the culture of the patients. After all,they are probably one and the same. We had a new faculty person from New Orleans, Louisiana – a fascinating and wonderful American culture all of its own. One day at class break, I asked for volunteers to teach her how to fold a paper crane…. and ten students happily shared time to talk with her about origami and what it meant for them. Wicked cool.

Rule Three?

rule three is – “chill.” as in learn to chill.  (read every definition!) Be advised, this is also the most “Asian” City in the USA. Certainly the most polite of any city I have been in, and I have lived in a few. The most respectful and mellow. If you drive like you are in Boston or New York City, you will have a problem on the roads here. Here you will learn patience and how to enjoy a gentle sense of humor.

Food – sometimes only Zippy’s will do!

Next is food. there is a distinct Hawaiian cuisine, known as the plate lunch. You can get rice for Breakfast at McDonald’s.

I would be remiss if I omitted some of the great comic talents of Hawaii that are able to examine and poke fun at their own culture. Then of course, so much of cultural knowledge consists of little tidbits; discrete factoids that we would call “Pearls of Wisdom”

The North Shore is Going Off!

There is a distinct surf culture in Hawaii.  Subject of a whole nother blog.

Please share widely and feel free to comment.


Filed under Honolulu, nursing education, nursing faculty jobs in Hawaii, Nursing in Hawaii