Readers' Submissions

Being A ‘Falang’ In Thailand Is Almost As Negative As Being ‘Thai’ Is In The Eyes Of The Rest Of The World!

  • Written by Zaq1
  • March 9th, 2006
  • 11 min read


Black Pagoda Patpong Bangkok

Statler & Waldorf's recent sub about the Thai name for foreigners certainly hit the mark with me, as I am sure it will do with many other expatriates living here. I personally do not like being addressed or spoken about in such an obviously racist manner – and I know that most other foreigners also resent this 'veiled' attempt at scorn and ridicule by our Thai 'hosts'.

Let me immediately qualify this: it's NOT just about the word itself, but the way the actual word is used and spoken. That's the real issue. And while I'm at it, maybe I should qualify myself. I ran a successful 'people' business in the UK for 20 years, before that I spent 10 years working and travelling in various parts of the world. I 'retired' early (at 47) with excellent health and sufficient capital to enjoy a good lifestyle. I'm a non-smoker / drinker and prefer sport, adventure and study to hanging out in bars. I have a wonderful Thai girlfriend (yes, Thai girls are wonderful!) who accompanies me on travels all over the world. I hope you see from this that I am not just moaning, though you the reader must be the judge of that.

There is no doubt in my mind that the word 'falang' is meant to be offensive. For example, on the (rare!) occasions that I am greeted with 'Khun David', this form of address clearly comes across, and is no doubt intended as being a personal and respectful salutation. When the term "falang' is used it is equally clear by the way the term is articulated and spoken that the exact opposite is the case.

I'm sure that there will be others who won't agree with the above. If this really was only about a word, something existing in isolation then OK, I could be judged as being over-sensitive. But it's not!

It has often been written on this site that the term 'man' is also often applied to foreigners, meaning 'thing' or 'object'. In this country this word is indeed a gross insult; if any foreigner referred to a Thai in such a manner then a violent reaction could definitely be expected in return. However, thinking that we don't understand, Thais feel free to refer to us like this all the time. We're also referred to as 'Quai' or Water Buffalo plus many other terms of abuse that I (thankfully?) do not yet understand.

However, I do pick up on some stuff. It took me by surprise a few years ago in Isaan when I thought (correctly, as it later turned out) that some motorcycle taxi drivers had called out 'has he got a big dick then?' (Falang mee ham yai, mai?) as we passed them in the street. It happened so quickly and was so unexpected that it was only later in the day that I felt resentment and some kind of mild anger (or hurt, maybe?). Just to set the record straight for any of you doubters, I was properly dressed in clean, neutral casual clothes (white polo shirt and khaki shorts), clean-shaven, in good condition and behaving myself, etc . . but, of course – I'm a foreigner!

To those of you who are unaware, let me assure you, these kinds of remarks – and far worse – are happening around you all day and every day whether you know it or not . . . with a smile of course . . . which if you respond positively to, just makes a bigger fool out of you to all and sundry.

I once got into conversation with a group of taxi drivers while waiting outside the Amari Boulevard Hotel in Sukhumvit and was appalled by the attitudes and closed minds that these guys have towards foreigners. You might immediately think that (especially in that location) many foreigners don't exactly conduct themselves in a manner to deserve much respect – and I'd have to agree – though it was more than just that. There was NO differentiation between us (we're all just 'falang'), and the inference clearly was that Thais themselves lead totally blameless lives and can never, ever do wrong. But then, from my experience that is EXACTLY how most Thais think. They are arrogant, they look down on us, they are critical . . . but they themselves are above criticism and can do no wrong. Whatever the circumstance, whatever you've done or NOT done, it's ALWAYS going to be YOUR fault.

Wait till someone rams your vehicle from behind or smashes into the side of your car by emerging from a side road without looking (thank God this has not happened to me though it has happened to other people I know) . . then yes, it's YOUR fault and YOU will end up paying. <Maybe in the past the farang would have paid, but these days things are not usually that badStick>

Getting back to the subject, there is no doubt in my mind that in most cases the term 'falang' is meant in a racist, derogatory and insulting way. Knowing Thais as I now do I'm sure that most of them take great delight in constantly using a word that could be construed as being innocent, and is largely misunderstood by foreigners whilst adding many other words into the sentence that, IF we could understand would leave us in no doubt as to their disrespectful opinions of us.

This 'indirectness' is typical of Thailand, a land where confrontation, directness and often even eye contact is avoided while behind that painted-on smile there is often anger, resentment, jealousy and discontent. Make no mistake, they know exactly what they are doing – and they love it! Aren't they clever?

It's a daily occurence for me to hear Thais walking in the street, or huddled in a group with 'falang-falang-falang' being heard above anything else. Sometimes I am able to understand the conversation, sometimes not, and if the conversation is clearly directed at me I usually say something like 'Khun mee cheewit korng tua eng, mai?' asking if they 'have a life of their own to talk about?' Of course the best reply you're going to get is that wishy-washy grin and an 'uurr meeesteuurr' Yes, I know . . I'm wasting my time, it's hopeless.

I recall even Stick himself once made the comment in one of his weeklies that after years of living and working here, at the time of writing he had made NO male Thai friends at all. That's with living and working here AND speaking the language! I ask you, if that is the case, what chance do the rest of us have?

I used to live here all year round, but I don't any more. After a month or so I'm screaming to get out – and I can speak for others who tell me exactly the same thing. But let me assure you, it was never like this in the beginning . . .

I came here to relax, enjoy life, make friends, live happily and to feel good. Escaping lousy weather, high prices, over-regulation and government intrusion. No more work – it's holiday time! For the first time in years I'm not carrying around a ton of stress; the sun is shining. I'm free! Does it – can it – get any better than this? I'm not looking to complain about anything! Is that you, too?

But then you realise: That smiling face means nothing. Even though you are spending money . . in the hotel or restaurant – have a problem with either and you are on your own. Take what you're given, pay up and shut up. This is where you realise. There is rarely any respect or consideration here. I'm not saying there isn't, but it is rare. And it's not just in hotels and restaurants, either. It's everywhere.

======================================

I recall in my early days reading The Nation and Bangkok Post newspapers in the aftermath of the 97-98 Asian crisis. The reports of lies, corruption, inefficiency, mis-management and downright stupidity in those pages, editorials and 'letters' pages used to amaze me!
(This is true: I even cut out articles and sent them to my HSBC bank manager in the UK, they were so uinbelievable!!)

I'd be lying around the hotel pool during the day, great food at hand – and of course those bars not far away – feeling that I was in paradise . . . but at the same time reading just how messed up this place is . . . yet simply not being able to believe or accept the words I was reading! Of course I hadn't yet been here long enough for the words to make any sense or to be meaningful at a personal level. That comes with time.

I must also mention a book written by John Laird. It used to be prominently on sale at bookshops and bookstands at the airport. It was called "'Money, Politics, Globalisation and Crisis' The case of Thailand" I read that book while first here those many years ago and still have it now. I have NEVER, NEVER, read a book like it – and I am sure I never will. If you see a copy, BUY IT – at any price! The book is well written and researched. It is comprehensively and meticulously referenced. It will teach you about Thais and the dark side of Thailand. You'd be forgiven for thinking it's the greatest work of fiction ever written. Read it and decide for yourself!

After all I've seen, heard and personally witnessed in Thailand I'd like to think that if I ever met a Thai in my own country I'd go out of my way to let him know how unwelcome HE is . . . but then I probably would not. Why? Because I would naturally look at that person as an individual and then treat them as I find them.

But you . . . you THING . . . you big-dick buffalo . . . you who understands nothing about Thailand . . .

'Falang', just spend all your money and GO HOME!

Do I make myself clear?

============================

On a happier note, I can report that there is justice in the world . .

I have found that meeting people when travelling OUTSIDE Thailand with my girlfriend, she is treated with far more respect if she says she is a Filipina, Indonesian or even of Laotian origin! We started saying this because there is undoubtably an unfavourable attitude towards Thais in the outside world!

As you'd expect, in the neighbouring countries of Indonesia and Cambodia, Thais are NOT liked. They are seen as being arrogant!!! (I WONDER WHY???) As for Malaysia, with the trouble in the south, Thais are hardly welcome there – as we discovered during a stop-over in KL last year!

Further afield, Thailand is internationally known for lies, corruption, exploitation of the weaker elements of society, prostitution, child abuse and people smuggling. Travel with a Thai and invariably it's assumed that you've 'bought' her . . she's an ex-sex worker . . or whatever. But then of course, they usually are!

You see many Thai girls in European cities (Zurich, Frankfurt, Amsterdam, to name a few) and instantly know what they are up to and what they are there for. Well, it just might be to work in a "KITCHEN OF THE WORLD!" Thai restaurant – or if not, to work as a cleaner of public lavatories (I've spotted many in Switzerland and London doing this kind of work), but mainly they work in the brothels and 'massage parlours'.

Sex for sale places all across Asia and (as we witnessed) in South Africa are dominated by . . . Thai prostitutes. No other country even comes close. Most people do NOT have an interest in Thailand because it's reputation is well known. It's embarrasing.

Whereas, introducing your girl as being from the Philippines or any other Asian country, and it brings an enquiring smile and a desire to learn more. This is not possible in every situation, but try it! You'll be surprised by how much more respect you and your girl will get by NOT revealing that she is from Thailand!

So there you have it: In Thailand, 'Falang' is a word with negative connotations attached. In the rest of the world, being 'Thai' is equally so!

Stickman's thoughts:

Heavy stuff. I have to admit that when I told people that I would be moving to Thailand for a year or two, more than a few eyebrows were raised.