Readers' Submissions

What Thais Don’t Get About (Some) Farang

  • Written by Wanderer
  • July 29th, 2005
  • 30 min read


By Thai Wanderer


Background

I tend to read Stick’s weekly column, though not so often the readers submissions. Catching up on a recently “weekly”, he posted a linked to a submission which I enjoyed. Then I noticed he’d also flagged another submission as a “star submission”, so I decided to read that too.

“What Farangs Don’t Get About Thai Women” by Jayson was again a very good submission. I appreciate that these are not necessarily his own views, and he’s just telling it how it is or he sees it. It’s also refreshing to hear a Thai say “This is going to be harsh, but….”. I agree with most of what Jayson said, but I believe there is another dimension which most Thais “never get”.

When he wrote:

“But on rare occasions, I’ll read something from a farang and I’ll say to myself, “man, this dude gets it.”

For me that’s ironic:

On rare occasions I’ll read or hear something from a “coconut” #1, and think to myself: “hey this coconut actually realizes that some of us do understand.” They realize there is more to life than Thailand.

#1 Coconut = Thai person :) and is used with all the connotations the word farang is used with by a Thai person.

I believe there are more farangs that understand things about Thailand, than there are coconuts that understand, that some farangs do understand some things.

This prompted me to write a submission. Jayson’s article was in many ways a mirror image of some of my views about most coconuts. This submission is not intended to rebuff his initial post. (How could I when I agree with most of it?), but to put another perspective. This is a perspective that most coconuts miss, and perhaps compliments his original submission, as well as going some way towards a wider picture. I know Thais read this site too, so it may even be of interest to them to realize that some “whitey”s #2 “do actually get it”. BTW My use of the word “coconut” is tongue in cheek but useful occasionally.

#2 Whitey = my preferred translation of the word farang, which I dislike being used much of the time.

To me, Jayson, is one of the few Thais “who actually get it”. A rare Thai person who is able to see several perspectives at once, rather than the one dimensional Thai perspective.

“But this is Thailand. You don’t understand”.

It’s so often an excuse in a difference of opinions with a Thai, for them to say:

“But this is Thailand. You are farang, you don’t understand”. They then expect this to be the end of the matter. This is the final trump card that ultimately ends the game in a winning fashion, beating all other cards that went before.

Literally to me this means, “As a coconut, I can’t think of anything more to continue the discussion. I’ve run out of rote learned comments. I’d like to stop now, as all this thinking is too much for me. But I also want to have the last word so I’m not perceived as being wrong, which could never possibly be admitted”

But occasionally, I decide I’m not going to let it rest there, with all my reasoned points simply being dismissed by the fact I’m a farang and don’t understand. So occasionally, when a coconut wants the last word in a discussion with a farang, and they play their final trump card: they find with me, there’s another card left in the pack: A sort of unexpected “joker”. So they get the response:

“Yes I do understand, but Thais (or coconuts) don’t understand, that I do understand.”

Few of them can take it to the next level, from there. For many coconuts they don’t even realize there is another level or two or three. Funnily enough few coconuts have ever been able to add much here, and none have ever used a mildly amusing reply I might offer if I were them, such as: “I understand that you do understand, but you need to understand that……then add a new comment :)

Most of the farangs in Thailand really “don’t get it”

I agree many “don’t get it” – at first – They don’t understand why they have problems with Thai women. True. But is it really that important to “get it”? As there are so many problems, perhaps it is.

But then again there are many different perspectives and answers here, so perhaps it isn’t really important to understand these “Thai ways” anyway? After all, they are just one culture in hundreds, and while there are many things I like about Thai culture, there are many I don’t. I don’t often tell Thais this to their face, out of respect for their own values and way of looking at life, and the fact many wouldn’t understand anyway.

As I wrote a couple of years back in a submission on Stick’s site about Thai language:

“When you understand how things really are, it's often not as nice as you thought in Thailand. After all it's the land of illusions

I also noted:

You have good times (and bad times) in Thailand regardless of whether you speak the language or not. Ability to speak Thai is a double-edged sword. Sometimes you gain. Sometimes you lose.

This probably applies to whether you understand your situation with Thai girls or not, and regardless of what type of foreigner/Thai or farang/coconut relationship you have.

In terms of understanding the difficulties and where things go wrong (or right), we have a few categories of people, including

1. Foreigners that don’t get it (majority initially)

2. Foreigners that get it but don’t care

3. Foreigners that get it but disagree. This tends to cause friction, and can make life difficult sometimes as you vent your frustration and start “coconut bashing”.

4. Foreigners who don’t want to get it

5. Foreigners who refuse to get it

6. Foreigners who pretend to themselves and/or others they don’t get it

If I’m honest, I’ve probably been in most of these categories at different times, plus probably a few others too. It can sometimes be fun to pretend to have no idea about things in Thailand, but these days I’m probably mostly in the second category and a little in the third.

But, and here’s a fundamental point again for me: Some of the best times I’ve had in Thailand were when I “didn’t get it”. This applies to Thailand generally, and not just Thai women.

Thai Circles

Like Jayson, most of my friends are foreign. So why should I care too much what the Thais think? I’m probably never going to “belong” here anyway. Sometimes it’s worth explaining to Thais, and sometimes it’s not. Sometimes it’s easier just to agree, say what a wonderful place Thailand is, how certain farang “spoil” it, then leave it at that. Sometimes it’s just easier to tell Thais what they want to hear, in the same way they do to us. A little ironic methinks.

One quote of Jayson’s that really makes me smile:

All they know is what their wife or GF or their small circle of friends and relatives have told them, which is of course usually completely biased and distorted.

This was talking about the limited knowledge of many farang visiting Thailand and their knowledge of Thai women. But looked at again, this is only one specific subject (Thai women/foreign men) in one specific country (Thailand).

However, this is so true across the board for many Thais. They only understand their own circles in their own country. Even Stick puts a rider on his ask the Stick’s page

“Mrs. Stick is a middle class woman from a middle class background and with all due respect to her, Thai people in one class do not always know what is going on in another class. She'll do her best to answer all questions but remember, she'll be looking at it from a middle class point of view!”

For me it’s the Thai views which are often completely biased and distorted. I see their views, understand where they come from, but few see mine. Let’s not forget for most foreigners, Thailand is one country, with many sections of society, which have similarities in different places throughout the world. Very few Thais understand life outside their own circles, and can’t see that their circles are just subsets of much bigger circles, which sometimes overlap and sometimes don’t. Yes, I see Thai views and yes I understand them, but I don’t have to follow them, even in Thailand. I learnt as a child I don’t have to stick my hand in the fire just because someone tells me too, or everyone else is doing it.

While I may not be a specialist in any Thai circle, I don’t know many Thais who experience or can relate to life in very many different circles, even within Thailand. I probably know more about Isaan life than most Bangkok girls do, and more about Bangkok life than most Isaan girls do. I am in a unique position as an observer, and an outsider to all this. If we move on from Thailand, and start talking about farangs, the average coconut is not even on the same page as my understanding, when it comes to the world outside Thailand. So we end up with situations where foreigners sometimes know more about Thais than they do themselves?

Mixing with and between Thais

As a foreigner, it’s easy for me to move between most Thai circles, though I’ll never be at the heart of any of them, as I don’t really fit or belong in them according to most Thais. However, I find I can enter these circles and am tolerated, in ways that they would not tolerate other Thais.

On the other hand most Thai people don’t mix very well. They have a more permanent base in their own circles, and may actually belong there rather than be tolerated, but can rarely go outside them even if they want to. As a rule, I’ll introduce any expat friend to any other friend, but keep Thai friends separate from other Thais, and certainly think twice about Thais and other Asians. The nice people I know from Isaan (regardless of whether they are working or non working girls) are generally looked down on by Bangkok girls, and not accepted.

I smile when Thais comment I have a lot of friends. The reason is simple: I’m prepared to have friends of any race, colour, class or background, and my society allows me to do that. Occasionally I’ve been asked by Thai friends why I have so many friends. Sometimes it’s probably just one of those meaningless Thai statements rather than actually a question, and is just aimed at making me feel good. So, sometimes I just smile and say I don’t know. Occasionally I give them the real reason.

Thai people have a term they use, called “integration group”. For the mathematicians out there, this is similar to the intersection group in Venn diagrams. Basically for Thais, many groups or circles would never mix.

However, as foreigners we have the potential to throw the spanner in the works here, by bringing together groups who would not normally mix. This gives rise to “integration groups”. Thais that wouldn’t normally mix, but a common link brings them together so they tolerate each other temporarily, but with little meaningful substance. BTW It doesn’t have to be a foreigner, but could also be a Thai that does this. An example might be a high-so Thai taking a very attractive low class girl for his wife. It maybe doesn’t happen often, but when it does, this girl will be simply tolerated within certain of her husband’s circles, which she “shouldn’t normally be in”.

So what does this mean to me? It means if I have a Bangkok girlfriend, I miss out on the fun life in Isaan, and some of the best culture and nicest people in Thailand. If I have an Isaan girlfriend, I really have to think twice about introducing her to work colleagues and other areas of life, regardless of what her walk of life is. A foreign girlfriend I could take anywhere, and indeed I did with a previous Singaporean girlfriend when she came to Thailand.

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder

So Thai people like white skin, and Isaan girls are all ugly? I think Jayson sees how shallow this generally accepted Thai belief is. But many Thais don’t. Most Thais can only see from a Thai perspective.

Funnily enough, in 19th Century England (dare I suggest Thailand is a little behind the times), there was a fashion for “beautiful” pale skin. Today it’s more diverse, and perhaps a tendency towards “darker, healthier skin”, rather than the “sickly, anoemic, pale, white look” that Thais crave. Beauty may be in the eye of the beholder. But to most Thais, anyone other than a Thai doing the “beholding” doesn’t count.

As an example there is a girl who worked for me in my office who all the Thais guys think is gorgeous. For me she is OK. There was another girl in my department, who is dark skinned and from Isaan. She obviously gets vary little attention this way.

My parents came to visit one year, and I took them round the office, introducing them to the girls that work for me. Later when we were talking about work, I mentioned the name of the dark skinned girl. My mum said “oh, you mean the pretty one!”

Now that’s my mum’s view. Not a testosterone loaded, whore-mongering, male who’s chasing skirt (like most farang are supposed to be), but a simple comment from my mum. So I guess there is only one (Thai) conclusion: “Sorry mum, you just don’t get it. Dark skin is ugly, white skin is beautiful”.

For me a beautiful girl is a beautiful girl, regardless of skin colour. If you think otherwise that’s up to you. I’m happy with girlfriends/dates from various countries, as well as various “colours”: black, white, light brown, dark brown, coffee (with and without milk)….

Most Thais can only see the external “Thai style” beauty, from a Thai perspective. This comes from rote learning. So to many coconuts it’s simple White = good; Black = bad; dark brown = ugly. Thanks, but no thanks – I’ve been given an education, and I can think for myself. I understand your small and shallow thoughts, but just disagree with them.

It becomes a self-fulfilling prophesy – teach everyone dark skinned Isaan girls are ugly, from the first day a child is born. Then combine it with Thailand’s fantastic system of rote learning and not questioning things, and unbalanced wealth distribution. Result: the child and (most of the rest of) Thailand goes through life believing it. Add in fact she’ll probably never be given the opportunity by the so called hi-so people to “be” beautiful or attend “beautiful events”, and we end up where we are today.

There is no fairy godmother for the Isaan Cinderella – only the wicked Thai Chinese step mother and ugly sisters. Is it any wonder they sometimes look for a farang prince charming, before the light goes out on life, at midnight? Even if they know he’s not prince charming, at least they can dream, pretend, or simply screw the guy for a better life.

I’m sure if Thailand ever had an emperor, he’d be the guy with no clothes, walking around stark naked while everyone apart from the farang told him how good his clothes looked. The farang would of course be laughed at because he simply did not get it. After all farangs don’t understand – the emperor is simply wearing “Thai clothes”.

Thai Maps

BTW Ever seen a Thai map? I know many Thais can’t read a map, so that’s why generally they don’t produce their own, but copy others. You might be interested to know, I managed to find an original Thai map once. It was quite old, and beautifully inscribed with traditional Thai writing. There were two countries, “Thailand” and “not Thailand”

Dating “nice” Thais

In my time in Thailand, I dated loads of Thai girls, including university students/graduates, from Chula, Thammasat, ABAC, Bangkok University, Ramkamhaeng etc. Girls with good jobs, their own car etc.

But to be honest most of the ones Thai people say “I should prefer” and are “nice girls” I find “shallow”. Just because they are privileged with whiter skin doesn’t make them girlfriend material.

On the other hand the lower class girls with little or no opportunities, or the ones where I “should do better” sometimes yield results.

Why? Because they aren’t given much, and when they get a chance, they challenge things, want to better themselves and do better in life. This I admire regardless of skin colour, job and position in society. Many Thai “hi-so” and middle class girls just accept things as they are, with little desire to change, as they are either already top of the pile, or simply not allowed to change. The “lo-so’s” might try and grab things with open arms (or even legs), but is it any big surprise they sometimes do it a little “unethically” given the choices available?

Perhaps if you take enough Isaan “ugly ducklings”, maybe you’ll get one who turns into a swan.

Another comment I hear, is how farang guys usually take Thai girls who are (much) younger than they are. Well correct me if I’m wrong, but isn’t this what Thais do publicly for all to see with their mia nois?

One reason I would take a younger Thai girl is that they have had less time to have their heads filled with all that Thai rote learning that doesn’t stop at school, but continues well into their next lives. A younger, 20 something Thai girl has much more potential to change and open up to new ideas, than a 30 something Thai girl. With age generally comes baggage in Thailand. By the time she gets to 50: No thanks I’ll just leave her to her ridiculous haircut pushing to the front of queues as is her “right” if she comes from Bangkok, or spending all day chewing red beetlenut with her missing teeth, if she comes from Isaan.

With a girlfriend I want more than just looks. I want the full package. For Thais beauty is external. For me it’s internal as well as external.

In several years in Thailand, I’ve been “discretely pursued” by “nice” Thai girls: Thai friends asking me, on behalf of other females if I might be interested. Sometimes with no name, and sometimes simply asking what do you think about X. Then there’s the “excuses to go out on a date which isn’t a date”, going out in groups, which eventually gets smaller, until occasionally you might be just two. But to be honest if these games have to be “played” then she’s probably not the girl for me. I’ve gone along with it open-mindedly but it’s not really for me.

I remember, one girl inviting me for dinner. Nice girl, decent family, quite wealthy, but just not my type in other areas. She invited me on an extremely lame pretext, which later became obvious it was just a pretext. But I figured if she plucked up the courage to ask, the least I could do was say yes. She knew it and I knew it, though in Thai style it just remains unsaid. A very nice meal and evening, being picked up and dropped off by her in her car, her offering to pay half the bill, but it was never really going to lead too much. I also didn’t want to encourage her, string her along or waste her time. She had too many negative traits about her which were just “too Thai”, and the positive “Thai traits” didn’t compensate enough. The lasting memory I have of this “date” was the one I’ve never really told her. I admired her and respected her for just asking, albeit indirectly. It was a big thing to do in her society.

If a Thai girl hasn’t got the balls to be seen with a foreigner (metaphorically speaking of course, and not referring to ladyboys), then she probably isn’t the one for me. After all I’d like to take my Thai wife to more places than just the bedroom. On the other hand, as Jayson points out I have to be careful with the ones who chase me, because I’m a “farang”. Yes, it can become catch 22.

Two “Truths” about Thais and Farang

As Jayson pointed out many Thais think:

(1) All Farangs are wealthy.

(2) Farang men are whore-chasers and connoisseurs of low-class women

To me this shows lack of education and understanding by most Thais in this area. It also comes from the daily rote learning as well as “Thai knowledge of geography” (remembering the old Thai map) and knowing little about what happens outside their own village.

To be fair though, in reverse, many foreigners think:

(1) All Thais are poor

(2) All Thai women are gold diggers, prostitutes or out to catch a rich foreigner

Both are equally misplaced. The difference is Thais base their view on what they see in Thailand. Foreigners base their view on what they see in various countries, where Thailand exports its number one commodity of Thai girls.

But most Thais just “don’t get it” even when you give them this example. They just think that the farang view about them is wrong and a misconception. They fail to make the link between stereotypes and that perhaps their view is also wrong. Instead they just become defensive about Thailand.

To the farang stereotype the following advice was offered:

So if you want to blame anyone, blame these true whore-chasers who are still out there every single day. It never ceases to amaze me how farangs get upset when Thai folks mistakenly assume their wives/GFs are hookers, yet see for themselves other farangs with hookers and don’t even bat an eye. Thais only believe that Thai women with farangs are BGs/ex-BGs because it’s true the majority of the time.

For Thais, does it therefore follow that this advice should be offered?:

If you want to blame anyone, blame the Thai whores throughout the world, who are out there every single day (& night). It never ceases to amaze me how Thais get upset when their Thai wives/GFs are mistakenly assumed to be hookers. Yet they see for themselves so many Thai hookers in day to day life and don’t even bat an eye. Singaporeans only believe that most Thai women are prostitutes because it’s true. Most of the Thais you see in Singapore are hookers.

Sorry, Thailand, if you don’t like the world thinking your women are all hookers. Blame the guys and girls behind and responsible for the sex industry that places Thai prostitutes so openly in every country.

For me I will try and look at each person on their own merits.

You’ve also got to ask: Which came first – the hooker or the punter? So farangs have a reputation for whore-mongering. Well please tell me why there are so many whores in Thailand. If there were no whores, there would be no farang whore mongers. Pause for thought… How many English hookers have you ever seen in Thailand? Or Singaporean hookers in Thailand? Now as a Thai, take that thought, reverse it and ask yourself why? Then asks yourself why to the next few answers that follow…Oh sorry I forgot that’s not part of the life long rote learning system. Also there will be a few answers you didn’t like so will just ignore.

Summary and Solutions?

I liked the quote:

“the woman that most men get are frankly the best that they could do with the options available.”

To be honest you need to be lucky to even get that sometimes.

So what’s the best for me that I can get in Thailand with my options available?

To answer this let me go back to the Cinderella scenario. Do I choose the wicked Thai Chinese step mother, one of the ugly spoilt sisters or the Isaan Cinderella? – not forgetting she’s been stigmatized and emotionally scarred from birth.

Thais often tell me with my background, good job, good Thai, etc I should have a beautiful or very nice girlfriend. And if they’ve seen some of the girls I’ve been with, they’d see sometimes they were right (in their eyes), but sometimes they’d be shocked (in their eyes).

For me the options available or should I say the general female population in Thailand is itself the limiting factor. There are some lovely girls here from all walks of life.

In Buddhist terms I like to think I have both compassion and wisdom. The compassion tends to rule out the ugly sisters, who are incidentally ugly because of their actions and own lack of compassion rather than their looks. Then again the BGs and lo-so’s are not exactly always a wise choice either.

So it’s difficult to find one girl to fit the all round requirements here. Even if she does or could, society probably doesn’t allow her to, as “nice” women usually remain repressed in Thailand. I would give her freedom of expression to be herself and what I’m looking for, but the rest of the country wouldn’t.

So some of the solutions/options I see and have tried in Thailand are:

1) Chase the dream of a “good girl” who’s perfect. But don’t forget to take a hard look at yourself first, and make sure of your own perfection before going too far.

2) Take a girl and pretend she’s everything you want. Many people seem to do this. Key factor is denial. This is very easy in Thailand. Most Thais won’t generally embarrass you most of the time, even you if you make a poor choice (in their eyes that is). They maybe don’t like certain types of girls, but won’t tell you to your face your girl is one of them. But they’ll enjoy talking about it behind your back.

3) Instead of one woman for many occasions, take different women for different occasions. Love, sex, companionship, partying, intellectual stimulation (yes, it is possible here, but rare). But is this really so different to why Thai men have their mia yai (main wife), mia noi (minor wife), mia gep (mistress), gik (“lover”)?

4) Settle for someone who’s not perfect, warts and all (the pun here was an afterthought), and just accept them. Don’t give a sh*t what anyone else thinks. Besides most of your friends will probably be foreigners. Now, unlike Thais they might tell you what they think of your girl. But as friends it will be done tactfully, and here’s the key: she will usually be accepted. You’re their friend. They like you. So they will treat her like any other friend’s girlfriend, and let her stand or fall on her own actions rather than on preconceived prejudices and stigmas.

One point that Thais don’t see is that foreigners can look behind their own and Thai people’s flaws and imagine what a lo-so girl or bargirl would be like, if she were given a chance in life, and sometimes try and give them that chance. This is the compassion side. If the girl were given a chance in life of course they might have chosen a different path. Sometimes this gets stretched a little too far, though, by a foreign dreamer.

On the other hand, most Thais will never give other Thais outside their own circles a chance in life. Foreigners will. Sometimes out of compassion and sometimes out of other reasons. Unfortunately it is not always wise to give them this chance. Being Thai, the girl often sees the world through Thai eyes only. As mentioned, 20, 30 years of rote Thai learning, within Thailand’s borders only, and among their own small circles, is hard to undo. By the time the foreigner arrives it’s often too late for change.

It’s difficult to tell someone that the world revolves around the sun, when everyone else is telling her it revolves around Thailand and her family. She’ll be outcast and laughed at for believing the world revolves around the sun. Not only that, but next life she’ll be punished and come back as god knows what, if she does adopt that belief. So what does the girl do? In duplicitous Thai style: often the world revolves around the sun when she’s with you, and revolves around Thailand the rest of the time. It sort of reminds me (in centuries gone by again) when people used to believe the world was flat. People who started to say it was round would be laughed at or persecuted.

Finally

Finally, I don’t want to settle for the obvious Thai options at this stage in life. Though, I might later :) So what was my solution? I’ve tried some of the above, as well as various combinations.

Thais think certain Thai girls are first class or top of the league. But the only thing they forget, or perhaps never realize, or have never been taught, is that like football, Thailand is only one of many leagues. Like their football team, they are not exactly premier league status in the eyes of the rest of the world. In many other areas of Asia, Thais are looked down on, in the same way they themselves look down on their Isaan sisters.

I don’t agree with this any more than I do with the way Bangkok Thais look down on Isaan people. But it’s there.

I have some fantastic memories of Thailand (and some bad ones too). But one of my “options” was to leave and go to another country. I believe other places offer me more. So now I’m playing in a different league.

When a Thai guy says:

“Look at the farang guy with the Isaan girl, he just doesn’t get it”, or

“Look at the farang he can’t get a “nice” Thai girlfriend”

I can just smile, and think: been there, done that, with your “nice” as well as “not nice” Thai girls. Then I can think about all the Singaporean babes who would never give this Thai guy the time of day. After all: Isaan = low class in Thailand. Thailand = low class in Singapore.

For me “I get it” in both these countries. I just choose to play by different rules. The Singaporean girl and the Isaan girl start equally in my eyes. When Thais say:

“This is Thailand. You have to understand things are different here”

Sometimes I smile and say nothing. Occasionally I reply in frustration:

“Yes I know. But Thais have to understand that I do understand. It’s just that sometimes I choose to disagree and do things differently”.

This is mostly greeted by blank Thai looks behind a Thai smile, while sometimes they try and work out what I’m talking about

I now have another response, if I feel like it:

“I know this is Thailand. I know things are different here. That’s why I decided to leave”

Just because I don’t follow Thai practice and the Thai way, doesn’t mean I don’t understand it, or sometimes even respect some parts of it. I have a choice, and try and take the best from different cultures, including Thailand. For me the world is not Thailand. Thailand is a small part of the world. My world has hundreds of colours and cultures. My map has hundreds of countries, not just two: “Thailand” and “not Thailand”.

Is it my fault when Thais laugh at me because I tell them the earth revolves around the sun, and not around Thailand? As nice as it is, Thailand isn’t actually the centre of the universe. The “Thai universe” maybe, but not mine.

Stickman's thoughts:

First class!