Stickman Readers' Submissions March 14th, 2006

If You Are A Farang Reading This, You Are A Misfit

By Hippolytus

There have actually been a few good points made about the "Farang" debate around here, surprisingly. In particular Staler & Waldorf had some good points. But I don't think he quite got it.

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This this hysteria regarding the use of farang is pretty silly. Every country in Asia that I am aware of has a colloquial term for white foreigner which can be used in impolite fashion. If you've ever even gone so far as to pick up a Lonely Planet, you know this. So why are you so scandalized when, shocker, you hear Thais using this word?

I don't know where to start, really … I think possibly the crux of the matter comes down to this: you (by which I mean, you who are bothered by the use of the word farang) treat the Thais as equals. You think, I treat you with respect (e.g. politeness), you should treat me with respect. But guess what? They are NOT your equals.

Let me explain.

First off, I doubt very much that you are as polite and respectful as you think you are.

Even in Bangkok, outside the tourist areas, farang are still an unlikely sight, and dealing with one causes your average Thai a great deal of stress. Therefore, you are required to be at least twice as polite as a Thai in the same situation in order to ease the friction of the situation. Triple or quadruple this if you are in the sticks.

I mean, what do Thais hate more than anything – stress, friction, mai sanuk … anything that falls outside the normal face-saving slick functioning of society whereby everyone pretends everything is always okay. Very very few farang I know or have seen can pull this off. You don't need to fluent in Thai, by the way – though of course this helps. Smiling and nodding, over and over, no matter how badly the idiot waiter at the restaurant fouled things up, will get you through with a minimum of pain. Like I said, this is in the Lonely Planet, for Christ's sake! But people have been here a long time tend to forget; they get impatient; they get fed up. So they get all frown-faced and snap at the moron who's bringing them their vanilla milkshake.

Which leads me to my main point: if you are an educated Westerner, a Thai is NOT your equal. As has been pointed out numerous times here, the educational system here churns out small-minded little automatons who might very well be xenophobic.

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Personally, I do not think Thais are xenophobic (quite the opposite, in fact), but that's another issue.

But compared to the West, with its long tradition of self-introspection and inquiry and science and philosophy and art, etc etc etc – what does Thailand have? Relatively speaking, nothing. Name a single important innovation or invention or philosophical thought or scientific discovery that has originated here in Thailand.

Can't do it? Didn't think so.

Your average Thai-educated Thai is the product of a traditional agrarian society. His mentality is essentially that of the village peasant. Superficially, this is not the case in Bangkok, but you don't have to scratch very deep on a city girl to find the peasant lurking therein. A peasant's outlook is narrow, vulgar, and inflexible. He cannot see very far past the present day or his immediate advantage. When confronted with a problem that has no obvious solution (for instance, a fat farang yelling at him about a 50-baht ice cream), he will retreat into sullen obstinacy and become uncommunicative. He is unable to think creatively. He is, however, very devious when it comes to getting hold of small chunks of money. Etc.

You, as an educated Westerner, make a very big mistake if you treat a Thai as your equal, particularly a Thai you don't know. You are simply far too sophisticated. Your thought processes about even simple matters are enough to stun a Thai into shocked silence. They simply lack the mental tools to make the sort of calculations which you take a matter of course.

What you can do is reach back into your own tradition: even if you are not a Christian, you can still apply kindness and compassion. And don't expect too much. The Thai you are getting so pissed off about has no idea. He's not trying to piss you off. He just doesn't have the tools to do otherwise.

So. A simple-minded Thai will apply the most obvious labels he has – and farang is about as obvious as it gets. If you understand Thai very well, you'll note that, when they are speaking among themselves, they use all sorts of terms to refer to each other that Westerners generally consider rude – chubby, big-nose, "dark", etc. Farang is just one more descriptive term. Of course it is sometimes used in a derogatory way, just as all descriptive terms are. But it might help you keep your lid from blowing off if you remember these are simple people. They don't have access to a whole dictionary full of correct terminology, let alone the education to apply it even if they did. You, as a Westerner, do. You don't expect an 8-year old child to conform to the rules of polite society, do you? So why do you expect a Thai to conform to YOUR ideas of politeness?

You're an ijit if you do. And it only leads to frustration and you writing semi-literate emails to Stick filled with bad grammar and half-baked


One more point: if you are connected up to Thailand enough to be reading this site, you are almost certainly a misfit in your own society. Many Thais rightly ask what's wrong with a farang that comes here to live or visit so often – why can't he be happy in his own country? (If it makes you feel any better, they ask this same question about ex-pats and long-term visitors in every Asian country in which I have experience.) Instead of getting pissed off by this question and accusing the Thais of xenophobia (which is the easy answer for you lazy ijits out there who are unable / unwilling to take advantage of your Western education), try to answer the question honestly. Are you a misfit?

Of course you are! We all are! If you weren't a misfit, you'd be happily at home working in an insurance office or something. But you're lucky: in the West, we have a long tradition of encouraging, even glorifying, misfits and rebels. You aren't from a society like Thailand where you'll be crushed down for being different. You are free to be a misfit. And I say, thank Christ for that.

In short, I think one of the other posters was on to something: if being called farang bothers you that much, then probably it's time to think about leaving. Because until there is a wholesale change in Thai society (i.e., never) and as long as farang keep coming here, it's not going to stop. All you can do is try to understand why it happens. It might make you feel better.

Stickman's thoughts:

I have to say that I agree with most of that.

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