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Angry hustle is way of life in other cities


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POSTED: Sunday, January 04, 2009

My father-in-law has moved in with us from his prior home in New Jersey, and we are all learning the differences between an East Coast attitude and the more mellow approach that informs our lives here in the islands.

People in Hawaii address each other in a leisurely and gentle way, and they wait patiently in grocery store lines, the doctor's office and even at stop lights. In New York they honk before the light changes, whereas in Honolulu you can put on your makeup during a green light and the people behind you wouldn't dream of indicating impatience.

Pop can't understand this. Having lived on the East Coast his whole life, he starts grousing about waiting before the waiting even starts, and he tends to order people around, us included, rather than asking politely for help.

After 20 years living here, adjusting to the slower pace of life and a more genteel and civil approach to social interactions, it's offensive to me to be ordered to get something, instead of being asked. When I spoke to Pop about not being so nasty to me, he was hurt and shocked, and I realized that the manner of speech here is so foreign to him that he truly doesn't "hear" how he sounds.

What I took for nastiness was for him just a speech style, and what he took for inefficiency and indifference is just the way things work here, where no one is ever in such a hurry that offending or hurting other people is OK in order to speed things up. After all, why be in a hurry when you live on a small island and there really isn't anywhere else to go?

It's my theory that being surrounded by ocean has changed how we think. Instead of racing in one direction like rivers, we ebb and flow like the tide, and we move at about the same pace. When you think about it, what's wrong with the civility of doing things at a gentler speed? There's more time for laughter and hugs, and less worry about always being the first to finish.

I remember the time my husband made the mistake of standing on the left side of one of those moving walkways in the airport in Newark, N.J. We were laughing and talking about our trip when a well-dressed but not well-mannered man came up from behind and yelled at us, "Get outta da way." We didn't move fast enough for him, and he muscled through, knocking Wayne nearly to the floor. That man silenced our conversation and reduced the rest of our trek to baggage claim to an exercise in self-defense.

Had he waited or asked civilly, everyone would have had a better day. Or least, we would have. And anyway, when we got to the baggage carousel, our bags were just coming down the ramp, and I like to imagine that that horrible man's bags were left in Chicago.