Readers' Submissions

Farang

  • Written by Anonymous
  • October 14th, 2004
  • 6 min read


Black Pagoda Patpong Bangkok

I’ve read through some of the Readers' Submissions and thought it was probably time for me to send you one of my own. I don’t know any other expatriates living in Bangkok who are in situation similar to mine, although I’m sure there has to be a few.

I work for a software firm on a team of programmers. I am the only non-Thai in an office of about 60-70 employees. There are several mid-level managers and two big bosses. My Thai language skills are not great; I can write and read a little, listening is OK and speaking is poor-to-fair. I am not a manager and I hold no authority.

Things, generally, are not very difficult. I’ve been doing this kind of work for about 16 years. I need little in the way of supervision, so I can go about my business with a minimum amount of interaction. There are the usual annoyances, with regard to the uneasy / paranoid nature of Thais, but I have to say that things go smoothly most of the time.

The word “farang” hits foreigners in different ways. As far as I can tell, it really depends on the type of society where a Westerner was raised. For me, as an American born in 1965, this word does not sit with me well. So much violence and damage in my country has occurred during my life because of the irresponsible attitudes that usually accompany these types of divisive, negative words. I believe in my heart that it is absolutely wrong—no justification—to acceptably address people with words like “farang”. It doesn’t matter where we interact in this world, these words will always be, and have always been, interpreted as insults. Yes, I understand that most Thais do not see “farang” as negative (some almost see it as a positive way of respect.) Yes, I do understand that we are not talking about a progressive society. But, I do feel that it’s about time Thailand (and many, many other countries) start educating their masses with regards to these types of issues; that they see the expansion of their populace’s cultural view as something positive rather than something to be avoided. Too often in recent years the people at the top have let these sores fester in order to keep the heat off themselves and place it on other outside, more accessible and open targets.

Recently, I was directly addressed by one of my colleagues as “farang”; the exact phrase being: “Farang, gin khao!” (an invitation to lunch.) Up until then, to my face, they’d always used my first name. Of course, I’d heard them referring to me as “farang” in conversations around the office, but the word had never been delivered to my face. We’d been going to lunch together for about three months as a way of keeping contact because, as I explained, our work doesn’t really require too much interaction.

I didn’t react either way after it was said. I waited for everyone to leave and promised to meet at the restaurant in a few minutes. The office cleared. My boss was still at her desk. I politely told her what happened, and promised that if it ever happened again I would quit. She kept her emotions in check and told me she would definitely look into the situation and get back to me. She wasn’t stern or serious. She kept her pleasant face.

As the next couple of days played, the usual response came. I was sat down and given the lectures about Thai society, how it couldn’t be their fault (it never is, is it?); that I just didn’t understand. I explained, in even more detail, why this type of word should not be used to address a Westerner to his face—especially in an office from one of his colleagues. Again, I was beating my head against the stubborn wall of Thainess.

The week passed. I came in on the following Monday and all had been dissolved in the peaceful furnace of the obedient phrathet.

Where was my confrontation?

Yet another piece of what I used to be drifted like tissue into the fire without a sound.

I’m still working at the company (it’s a good job and that’s all that really matters at the end of the day), but I am having a difficult time returning the warm smiles of my colleagues around the office. I thought that they’d be different (not bargirls) when I took this job because most of them went to university overseas or to Chula. But, all of that really doesn’t matter, does it? Thais are what their society has made them. Overall, is that wrong or bad? No. Not in Thailand. As far as I can tell, not too many people really care. If they did, they’d never do anything about it. They like their happy kingdom as it is and are strongly offended by critical outsiders. It’s not that criticism is generally avoided in Thailand; it’s only avoided when it comes to their country. The people are freely encouraged to sniff their noses at the West, which they frequently do. Don’t let them tell you (and they will) that criticism and opinion are rude, unjustified behavior, because they will only pout when the face is theirs to be lost. And, with us, there is no face to lose.

As long the Thais in power keep us outside, the lower 99% will always have a place to dump their frustration. And, I guess, that’s the most difficult thing for me: I’ve never been on the receiving end of such inequity.

One might say that he has been a recipient of a similar action in the past, or that he has been feeling the crush for years. He would probably love to say to me, “Good! It’s about time! Yeah!” But, where does that get us, really? Makes me wonder.

Stickman's thoughts:

Interesting situation this. There are a few people I know who object to the word for farang, but I personally have no objection. som people, read: farangs, seem to believe there is a negative connotation to it I don't feel that. Some Thais might use it negatively and perhaps that is what happened in your office? I don't know, I isn't there. But generally, the word is used in a neutral tone and one has to look at the situation where it was used. Hell, they invited you out to lunch for God's sake, I don't think they meant you any harm. It isn't like they said "you are ugly white skinned barbarian, come and give us the proof that farangs eat like pigs at a trough".

I think (hope) other readers will give their thoughts on this issue. It is an interesting one not discussed here before.