It was pau hana time at the Pizza Factory, a then-popular watering hole in the Maui Mall. It was hard to tell if the place was a saloon that served food or a restaurant that served booze. If memory serves, the Pizza Factory was Jon Applegate's flagship, the first of a string of eateries on the island.
Two women and a guy were working on their second pitcher of beer. The guy was a malihini not long from Oahu. One of the women was part Hawaiian. The other was a haole born and raised in the islands.
"It really ticks me off when a local thinks I'm some kind of tourist," the blonde said. "I usually shut 'em up by laying a bunch of pidgin on them." For her, pidgin was a second language learned on grade-school playgrounds and hanging out with locals. Her hapa-Hawaiian friend grinned. The malihini filed the comment away, one of his early lessons in island culture.
On another occasion, in a motorcycle shop, a couple of locals were eating poke and discussing a biker freshly from Los Angeles. One was skeptical about the newcomer, despite, or maybe because of, the biker's tricked-out Harley. The other one had partied with the guy.
"Eh, he's OK. He eats local. Not pushy."
Island hospitality requires offering food to any guest. Refusing to eat is a major faux pas. Enthusiastically downing the grinds indicates the guest is willing to fit in. Being pushy tends to come across as acting superior. (Yeah, there are locals who are pushy but they are in a minority.)
On another occasion, I watched two local cowboys discussing an upcoming ranch rodeo at Ulupalakua. A Kona storm had cut off Kaupo. That meant the cowboys from Hana would have to come around the Keanae side. The cowboys were discussing ways and means.
The conversation, if you could call it that, lasted for 15 minutes or so. Not more than a dozen or so words were spoken. Mostly, they stood there, thumbs hooked in their back pockets, looking at their feet and shrugging, nodding or shaking their heads.
An early lesson: Locals are more interested in how a person makes them feel than what is actually being said.
All of this trolling through four decades of Maui memories was brought about by a Feb. 15 letter to the editor. "What qualifies to be considered local?" the writer began. Apparently he was perturbed by a bumper sticker saying, " 'Just because you live here doesn't make you local.' "
His friend had suggested, the writer went on, he needed to live on the island much, much longer than nine months, even though he owned a house. That might apply to being kamaaina. Although rude, the bumper sticker was correct.
The short answer to the writer's question is you have to be born on Maui - or one of the other islands - to be considered local. There's a caveat. A local is generally a dark-skinned mixture of Hawaiian, Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Filipino, Portuguese. A Caucasian born in the islands is usually referred to as local haole.
More importantly, a local lives local and has local sensibilities. There are island-born mixtures who don't qualify because they've become thoroughly Americanized in their thinking, language and lifestyles. And not all dark-skinned Mauians are locals.
Living local means living with family, "eating out of the same calabash," and being aware of what is going on around you. A classic example can be found in convenience stores with a group of individuals waiting to get up to the counter and there is no clearly defined line, everyone just standing around kapakahi. The island way is to walk up, note who is there, make eye contact if possible with the others and wait until the last of those ahead of you get to the counter. Then it's your turn. Anyone who plows through the crowd will prompt those waiting to roll their eyes at such pushy, or maha'oi, behavior.
With time, education and a respect for pidgin and local ways, a malihini can become a kamaaina but he or she can never be a local. All island-born-and-raised individuals have certain commonalities that can never be shared by a transplant, just as all women have commonalities that are not shared by men and vice versa.
Tips for transplants: Wait until invited in and forget about using pidgin until it comes naturally and spontaneously. Eat local. It's worked for me. I'll try to eat anything on a local menu. Just don't tell me what it is.
* Ron Youngblood is a former staff writer for The Maui News. His email address is email@example.com.