Readers' Submissions

On Being A Farang: An Up-country Perspective And Other Little Gems


By Sudah Makan

There have been a couple of articles on the topic started by Statler & Waldorf‘s essay debating the use of the word ‘Farang’. I’ll bet they’ve had some replies from bleeding-heart liberals, telling them not to be so hard on the Thais, all of whom are charming, friendly and ever so helpful.

A year ago, a friend of mine who has been living in Nongkhai and Udon for 18 years asked me what it was I did not like about living in Thailand. I replied without hesitation that I objected to the fact that my ethnicity was invariably the only criterion that Thais use to define me; i.e. I was ‘just a farang’. Before I continue, I must point out that there are many, many reasons why I like living here but the attitude of the resident population most certainly is not one of them.

S&W is right: hostility, suspicion and the need to treat us with contempt seems to extend to all levels of society here, from the village idiots upwards and we have all had examples of these types of behaviour. However it should be pointed out that the overt use of the word ‘Farang’ seems much more common in Bangkok and tourist areas, where foreign visitors clearly outnumber the foreign residents. This also supports the idea that it is, in fact, a term of abuse or derision. In smaller towns up-country, although we do hear the word from time to time, farang remarks are few and far between since the locals are aware that most of us who live there permanently understand the gist of what they are saying. Most of all, we have the self-confidence and ability to reply in kind, with consequent loss of face for them. Last night I attended an outdoor event at a school here (didn’t really want to go but sometimes one has to), at which there must have been 3000 people present and I only saw one other Caucasian. I never heard the word ‘farang’ once, kept a low profile and was almost ignored which was fine with me.

This really is in complete contrast to the rudeness and surliness of taxi drivers, hotel and restaurant staff etc in Bkk that never ceases to amaze me, from the minute I emerge from the domestic terminal at the airport. Presumably the need to classify pale-faced foreigners as a single, homogenous group in which we lack any individuality is an affliction with which many Thais seem to have been burdened. It really reflects their laziness and basic stupidity but are they any more lazy or stupid than the average member of the public in say Australia or UK? Former acquaintances in the latter have told me 1) that, since Thailand has a common border with Vietnam, then 2) blokes who live here are all a bunch of Gary Glitters! Nevertheless, to get back to the point, how many times have we heard ‘farang no like spicy food’, ‘farang can not sit on floor, only chair’, ‘mosquito only bite farang, no Thai people’ and ‘you eat farang food or Thai food’? I’d like to know what the hell farang food is anyway. Does a Greek eat the same food as a Norwegian?

Talking about food, here’s a village idiot story. A few months ago I spent a couple of hours in a village near Chum Phae, in Isaan, and met this woman who clearly did not like the look of me. The F word cropped up regularly in her conversation which was entirely in village Lao and therefore pretty incomprehensible to me. However my ‘translator’ told me that this woman did not like Fs as they were all kee neeow (tight fisted) because they did not eat Isaan food. Since Isaan food was clearly superior to Farang food it had to be more expensive and we were too kee neeow to buy it! OK, well a couple of weeks later I found myself back in this village and who should I bump into again but Isaan’s female answer to Einstein! She told me that a farang was living up the road and did I want to meet him. I said ‘No, why should I?’ I then asked her what she thought of him and she said (guess what?) he was kee neeow because he only ate Isaan food and was too mean to buy imported food! WTF??

Turning to language, why do Thais assume all Caucasians speak English? Undoubtedly anyone who reads this website has a reasonable grasp of Phasa Anggrit but what about the Caucasians who don’t? Maybe we should assume all Orientals speak say Malay. Why do they persist in speaking to us in broken English when it is apparent that many of us speak their language considerably better than their appalling command of ours? How about going up to a black person from California or Zimbabwe and addressing them in a bad version of Jamaican patois? You’d get a well-earned punch in the mouth. Incidentally, if you want to get rid the unwelcome attentions of a persistent Thai, just tell them ‘Mai khawjai’ and use a third language. That floors them completely, 100% success rate.

It will take many generations for Thais as a whole to understand that it is not only they who should be respected as individuals, not simply examples of racial stereotypes, based on the density of melanin cells in our epidermis. None of us will be alive to witness this momentous event. In the meantime, just enjoy the many benefits of living in Thailand. We know what they are, not just the obvious one!! Just bite the proverbial bullet and accept the fact you’re just a ‘F…ing Farang’ and always will be.

Let me finish by quoting two remarks made by a couple of fellow Stickman readers, emailed to me after a previous article that I had written:

# ‘The stench of Bangkok is the smell of freedom’.
# ‘I’d rather die than go back there’ (referring to an overcrowded, politically correct island in the top left hand corner of Europe whose name currently escapes me).

Stickman's thoughts:

Comments to follow. Sorry, another busy week for me!