by Jan TenBruggencate
There was a bumper sticker on the wall at my canoe club.
It said (and I’m cleaning this up), “We don’t give a hoot how you used to do it in California.”
The bumper sticker generated a smile on the face of every long-time resident who saw it.
It is one of the curses of living in a place where being transient is the norm rather than the exception: you’re regularly being informed about the things you’re doing wrong.
At every turn, there is someone who handled traffic differently back on the Mainland, who managed permits differently back home, who taught children differently back in Arizona, who trained lifeguards differently back in Malibu, who performed customer service better back in Seattle, who prepared food more competently in Chicago.
You just want to get a bumper sticker that says, “That’s okay, Brah, but THIS is how we do it HERE.”
Since this discussion started at the canoe club, I’ll note that it’s always amusing at the halau wa`a to have someone show up with vast canoe experience on rivers and lakes. Doesn’t matter that their canoes are flat on the bottom, that they’re not used in big waves, that they differ in weight by an order of magnitude, and that even the water tastes different.
They know all about how to move an Old Town Camper canoe across a quiet lake. And they can’t help themselves. They must tell us that we Hawai`i primitives really don’t know much about canoes.
I suppose it is a kind of xenophobia—the very human fear of things and people that are different from what we’re accustomed to. Instead of celebrating diversity, we have this need to make everything the same.
It is, after all, oh so comfortable that every Home Depot, every Costco and every Walmart is so much like every other. It is so common to find people who have spent thousands of dollars on a Hawaiian vacation eating at fast food joints that smell, taste and look just like the ones back home.
This is not just a Hawaiian phenomenon. You’ll find American tourists in the McDonald’s restaurants in Amsterdam, and Tel Aviv and Hong Kong.
Many folks just can’t seem to celebrate a unique sense of place.
Or can they?
In contrast to xenophobic fear of the strange, there is another Greek term, topophilia: the love of place. The geographer Yi-Fu Tuan called it that emotional connection that humans have with a particular physical environment.
And perhaps here there is hope. Because perhaps we can temper our xenophobia with our topophilia. After all, our topophilia it doesn’t only need to be a love of a familiar place. It can even be the love of a very strange place.
We may go eat at Burger King because it’s the same as back in Kansas. But we also celebrate the Waimea Canyon and Hanalei Bay, and don’t want to change them, because they are so vastly different from anything “back home.”
Jan TenBruggencate, a beekeeper for less than a year, is an author and the former science writer for The Honolulu Advertiser. He operates a communications company, Island Strategy LLC. He serves on the board of the Kaua’i Island Utility Cooperative and on the County Charter Review Commission.