Aloha from the Lido Deck
July 17, 1993
I haven’t been on the ship very long, only a few weeks at most. I still can’t wrap my brain around the fact that I will be working on a cruise ship sailing around the Hawaiian islands for the next five months. When we’re in Maui, I play tennis at the foot of the West Maui Mountains. And every time I do this, I give thanks thinking somewhere in New York an out-of-work actor is waiting tables. And some patron is threatening to get him fired.
But that’s not me, at least for now. Instead, I get to hand out champagne at the Captain’s Cocktail party. I get to lead conga lines and throw streamers as we sail away. I dress up in 50’s attire or pajamas to lead theme parties in the evening. This is all on top of getting to sing and dance in the review shows. How can life get any better?
Okay, I am a bit tired of all the “getting lei’d” jokes. And my face gets sore from hours of smiling and saying “Aloha” as I stand on the gangway greeting passengers. But really it’s a small trade-off to be in such a fragrant tropical paradise.
This afternoon was my first time assigned to handing out Hawaiian names. This means I sit in the lounge and translate passengers’ names into Hawaiian. The ship has a book for us to look up all kind of names. The book lists the person’s name, the Hawaiian version of their name and then the translation of the Hawaiian name.
I must say the Hawaiian language is not an easy one. Reading it in your head is one thing, but speaking it aloud is a whole other ball of poi. With all those vowels (and lack of consonants), I sound like I’m trying to dislodge a Skittle from my throat rather than speaking Hawaiian. But I give it my best shot. As they say in theater, if you do it quickly and with confidence, no one will ever know you made a mistake.
I do run into a bit of a problem, however, whenever people ask me to repeat name pronunciations for them. For instance, the Hawaiian equivalent of Daniel is ‘O Ke Akua Ka’u Luna Kanawai. Lord knows what I said on my first attempt at that doozy of a name. I certainly can’t be expected to recreate the cacophony of sounds I just emitted. I just hope they don’t notice the discrepancies I know I am making. And if they do notice, don’t ask me about it, please.
Some woman came up today with a whole sheet of paper she wanted translated into Hawaiian. She’s having a luau (pronounced loo-wow) when she gets back from the cruise and wants to make a speech in Hawaiian to impress her guests. I reminded her that this activity was called “Hawaiian names” and she would be better off looking for a native of Hawaii to help her with this task. That is WAY beyond my abilities.
But regarding the names themselves. It seems the vast majority of people’s names translate into either “brave warrior” or “beloved friend.” That seems to make people happy. Strong, secure, respectable. All good qualities.
However, one passenger named Mimi showed up and her name was a far cry from brave warrior or beloved friend. Her name translated into “to urinate.” Unfortunately I was in my “quick and confident” mode and blurted this out before I could begin to process what I had just read. I don’t know who looked more horrified, but we ended our session abruptly, trying to focus on happier thoughts.
Mimi wasn’t the only name with unfavorable connotations. Cameron or Ihu Kapakahi (say that ten times fast) translates into “crooked, lop-sided nose.” Mona (Momona) means “fat and fertile”. And Keith or Kika means “slippery and slimy.” Other notable translations include “greasy as pork fat,” “lazy and idle,” “sticky sex pole,” “adulterous husband” and more. I’m sorry, but if you are on a Hawaiian honeymoon, I doubt you want to be told your name means “adulterous husband.” Come to think of it, honeymoon or not, it’s probably not a title you want associated with your name at all.
The hard part is these people love to look over my shoulder and read out of the book with me. After the Mimi incident I’m not so sure I want people to see what is written. Eventually I began hovering over the open book, shielding curious eyes from the pertinent pages. That gave me some time to think before granting them their Hawaiian name. Who am I to bestow such unfavorable news on a passenger’s vacation? Instead I granted the unlucky ones a reprieve. I turned those lazy and idle, greasy as pork fat, adulterous husbands with sticky sex poles into beloved friends and brave warriors. Now, isn’t that a lot nicer to take home as a memento?
May the Aloha spirit be with you, my beloved warriors. Time to lead a conga line.