MAHALO

By Laurie Long

Hawaii

 

I want to say a few words about the Hawaiian language. Hawaiian seems to consist almost entirely of vowels with a few, lonely consonants thrown in as afterthoughts. (Our Hana campground, Waianapanapa, is a good example.)  You probably know that ‘aloha’ means both hello and goodbye and has a generally understood “welcome to the islands, bruddah” floating around in the background.

In fact, the only Hawaiian term more heavily used than aloha is mahalo, which means “thank you.”  But like aloha, mahalo has an unspoken background message.  It’s all in how it’s used. “Please don’t park in front of the driveway.  Mahalo.”  or “That cheeseburger will be $25.  Mahalo!” or (on the Hana Highway), “Let the local drivers have the right of way.  Mahalo.”

Mahalo can morph from a simple “thank you” into “pay attention you brain-dead turon.” (a neologism combining tourist with moron.) And with the milling herds of turons swarming to Maui like invading locusts, it’s understandable.  The gentle and polite islanders can’t bring themselves to behave like New Yorkers, so they rely on mahalo.

It brings to mind the traditional southern expression “bless their heart,” which sounds sweet, but is generally used either preceding or following some personal comment that is likely to be less than neighborly.  

“He hasn’t got the sense God gave a chicken, bless his heart.”  “Poor Mable has moved on from the ‘plus’ sizes to the ‘tent’ sizes, bless her heart.”  “Yep, that flood took out their house, so they built another right on the same spot, bless their hearts.”

On the islands, every request for you to wake up, follow the rules, and try to act just a little less like an ignorant tourist is followed up by mahalo.  Paul and I wanted to use it. We wanted to “go with the flow” — simply as a “thank you” (without any undercurrents), but we just couldn’t.

Every time we tried we would look at each other and start cracking up.  We made it worse by reading the local notices to each other – the ones with mahalo at the end.

I guess we will just have to leave mahalo to the natives, with their sweet smiles and their $25 cheeseburgers.

Bless their hearts.

 

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