Readers' Submissions

Frames Of Reference And Your Average Farang

  • Written by BKKSteve
  • March 16th, 2006
  • 5 min read

By BKKSW

Every time you step out of your front door you’re hit by the differences of people and their respective cultures. The culture differences could be as small as the way your next door neighbor celebrates Christmas or as huge as the way different religions celebrate their holidays. Next door they might open presents on Christmas Eve while you open presents Christmas morning. A person from the Middle East might celebrate their religious holiday by a month long pilgrimage to Mecca while a Jew in Israel might celebrate Yom Kipper.. If you never leave the comfort of your living room then you’ll probably be ok with the way your world is working, but the farther away from the front door you get the more different things are going to be in an infinite number of ways. It’s just plain culturally insensitive and seriously naïve to judge everyone by your family standards, the standards of your community, or the standards of your country.. when you’re not in any of those places.

Let’s talk about the recent submissions and discussions on the use of the word “farang.” Virtually everyone starts out with something like “imagine how someone would feel if I called them xxxx in yyyyy” and then goes on to bore us with why calling someone xxxx in yyyyy just isn’t the right thing to do because… Because? Yep.. because by their frame of reference (their living room, city, state, country) and the way things are done where they come from then being called a “farang” must be a terrible label and the people using it must be bigots and racists and terrible people. Why? Because where they come from that would be the case.. NEWSFLASH: You don’t come from Thailand and “judging” Thai behavior by your own frame of reference is about as silly as wondering why the hell Ronald McDonald at all the Thailand McDonalds is wai-ing all the children coming in to buy a Happy Meal.. After all, in your country Ronald McDonald is doing something different with his hands isn’t he? Don’t tell me you never noticed Ronald McDonald wai-ing in Thailand, or what he’s doing with his hands in your country? Uh-huh.. experts on world culture all of you…;o)

Having lived in Asia most of my adult life and several years in Thailand I’m convinced ‘most’ Thai people use the word simply to describe a “non-Thai.” Not a “foreigner”, not a “white devil” and not a “barbarian.” Only to show who they’re talking with that you’re not Thai. Let’s face it, that’s pretty useful information for them and for us. It allows them to know who it is they’re dealing with so they can adjust their service, speech, manners, or whatever they see fit and for the overwhelming part this works in our favor as we all know most Thai’s are a friendly people who are mostly concerned with being good hosts and showing good manners. Are there exceptions? Of course. When I deal with educated Thais I rarely hear the word “farang” escape their lips in my presence because they know better and more importantly they know I know better. I’m not talking about our average university graduate either. I’m talking about the upper levels of masters degrees and doctorates and upper society. Over all that’s a pretty small percentage of Thai people.

An even smaller percentage would be the uneducated who knowingly and intentionally use the word disparagingly. Let me give you an example. Would you consider introducing a Thai person to your friends in your home country as “Thai?” Yes? Me too. Or French or Swedish or American or any nationality. Now.. let’s say that in your country there are many people of a certain nationality who behave poorly, come to your country to pay for sex with your women, talk down to you, get drunk and act like idiots and stumble down your streets, refuse to honor your cultural values and customs, refuse to learn your language.. might you adopt a “tone”, possibly a derogatory tone, to the national descriptor? What? You’re going to try and tell me the examples I gave you are nationalities and not a description based on race so I can’t possible be accurate? Consider that Thai’s for the overwhelming part are a homogenous people and most western countries are a “melting pot” of other races so that would be a wrong assumption.

Thai people overwhelmingly DO NOT use the word “farang” in a disparaging way, but a descriptive way. However, if you’re one of the farangs stumbling down the street drunk, showing up to visit the Grand Palace in shorts and then arguing about it, talking down to the working class, etc, and the shoe fits.. then maybe they’re using an underlying tone of disparagement to describe not all farangs.. but to describe YOU based on your own deportment and actions. How can you tell the difference? I suspect that after I’ve mastered the Thai language, studied their history, lived in their country for a decade or two.. then I’ll be better able to know for sure when a Thai is using “farang” in a disparaging way, or maybe.. by fairly judging my own behavior with just a short time in the country I might be able to tell. Until then I don’t think I’m going to be worrying myself and getting all upset because of uneducated assumptions on my part. How about you?

We can take this knowledge even further when we try to compare our own frames of reference to sin sot, marriage, education, raising children, and so many other ways. Unless you’re willing to put in the time to learn the culture and the people then you really shouldn’t expect things to go smoothly as if you were with someone who holds the same frame of reference as yourself. But these are other subjects.. which I’m sure opportunities will present themselves for future discussion.

BKKSW


Stickman's thoughts:

With so many different types of people in the world, there will always be misunderstandings and problems. It is inevitable, irrespective of how well-educated and informed the respective parties might be about each other's cultures.