Readers' Submissions

Sticks And Stones

  • Written by Casanundra
  • March 9th, 2006
  • 24 min read


Black Pagoda Patpong Bangkok

I wasn't going to write this submission until my brother from England wrote to me and said the following:

I have just read the article ‘the case against the Farang'. It was very good and I believe he has a point, maybe the ‘westerners' in Thailand, in their own way, have created a name that has stuck because it is accepted practice, i.e. not wanting to upset the locals, I also agree that Farang is an ugly word, I hate it as much as the word infidel, funny that, and I don't even live in Thailand.”

Hell he has never even been to Thailand let alone lived here and the word is upsetting him!

So it got me thinking… and you know, when I hear the word “Farang or Falang” levied towards me or when I hear it being aimed in the direction of another foreigner, a little menu of options always appears in my head, and then depending on the conditions and context by which I hear the word being used, I simply allow myself to go through the little menu of options before I take any action…

This is my menu:

1) Ignore it

2) Tune in and listen

3) React

Call it my own way of counting to ten if you like… call it my way of thinking things through first, or to trying to behave like a rational human being and most definitely to not jumping in feet first and going off on a raging rant on the spot to some Thai who cannot understand what the Foreigner is getting angry about. But before I go into what I do with each of the menu options, I guess I should explain why I do it this way, and for me it simply boils down to one central theme:

“We”, yes “you” and “I”, are the visitors here, we are the immigrants, the people walking in a distant land, the people who just simply decided one day to turn up on their doorstep. There, I have said it. It is that old chestnut of an argument again. This of course is nothing new, I mean people have been turning up on each other's lands for thousands of years (usually uninvited and wielding some kind of sharp instrument with a harsh intent), but in the modern age of global business, faster travel and diminishing borders, then I sincerely hope that this wonderful phenomena continues, but one thing for sure will never change, and that is we are all just going to be visitors no matter where we go. Period.

Ok, I hear you say, valid point, but let's get back and debate the use of the word ‘Farang'. Why should we as ‘people' have to come here, only to then have to put up with

and tolerate horrible words being used to describe us, or accept and tolerate some level of racial abuse because we have white skins and big noses, or how about having to tolerate double standards and dual pricing, or a xenophobic nationalistic race who won't give us any rights or allow us to own property etc…

Well my friends, and dare I say it, it's because Thailand doesn't have the concept of what being politically correct is, it just isn't recognised here, or at least not on the everyday Thai Joe level that we get to see as foreigners. Let's face it, the Thais are renowned for being blatantly racist (especially with their own) and they have a system of judging you, categorising you and slotting you off into a ‘perceived' and very superficial hierarchical box based on your outward material possessions, the education you have and the position you hold. So when I hear people getting upset over a word then I just simply put it into a wider context and think that things could be a lot worse.

I mean come on guys, are we really concerned about being called a Farang? Let me ask you this, have you all forgotten your own histories here or how things are back at home today? Have we forgotten how our own citizens back home treat the immigrants in our own lands? In our countries we have a far worse case history of abuse and names that we use towards immigrants than what the average visitor in Thailand has to put up with. I mean when you look at us in the west, we actually have a whole vocabulary to describe the immigrants to our lands and I am willing to bet that some of the words we have invented are very much worse than the Farang word that we face here today in Thailand. In fact, let me remind you of some of them:

Wop, Yank, Bean Eater, Benny, Frog, Boat People, Bog Trotter, Ching Chong, Tiddly Wink, Chink, Rag head, Paki, Curry Muncher, Fritz, Gringo, Ivan, Jock, Jungle Bunny, Kaffir, Spear-Chucker, Spick… Need I go on?

I am not actually sure when the name calling for other nations started but I bet the Romans had something to do with it, or at least that's what I was led to believe after watching Monty Pythons ‘Life of Brian'. Even when you look back, you can see that the 2nd world war produced some of the finest inter country name calling with Kraut, Bosch, Yank, Nip and Tommy being a few that were thrown about across the battlefields. Now I come to think about it, I wonder which hurt the most… was it the 10mm high explosive shell or the name calling from the Brits shouting “take that you Nazi Kraut”, followed by “Upz Zors Tommee” rat-a-tat-tat… being sent back from ze Germans?

You can just see it now across the Burmese or Malay border… “Hey, Khun Farang, have some of this…” – ‘Kabonk' as the 2mm shell comes across (The Thais have no budget for big guns)… Followed by “ya boo! Missed me, take some of this you yellow come brown come black come whatever skinned Thai, erm um… Chinese, erm um… Laos , erm um… Leu Kreun half caste American / Brit / Aussie / Finlander / Swede / Dutch / German or whatever the hell you bloody are over there…” rat-a-tat-tat from the other side.

Ok, I know it's getting silly now but don't you think that name calling and being upset with a word and a name is just taking things too seriously?

Having said that however, I do have to concede that many if not all of the words we as westerners use to describe non-natives are very unlikely to be used in the earshot of the target that it is intended for, unless of course we are looking for a fight. Conversely, I do recognise and acknowledge that although we back home very rarely say out loud our list of words for non-natives (lest we upset something or someone somewhere in the politically correct world we live in), the Thais on the other hand will and do unfortunately use the word Farang very much in ear shot of its target audience as well as for the benefit of whoever else happens to be listening too, however having said that, it is rare (in my experience at least) to hear a Thai actually come up and say to your face “Hey you Farang!” with them tending to use the word more passively by talking about you instead but sometimes you may also get the odd street urchin running up pointing and saying “oooh! Farang! Farang!” but this is more in amazement at seeing you there than anything else.

So as I reflect back on my time in Thailand and now recognise and know how it feels to be an immigrant, it has made me in many ways more humble, because I now realise what the immigrants back home have had to endure. It is also because that I recognise this, that I tend to go through my menu of options instead as my own little fail safe to just make sure that the word ‘Farang' is not being used in a more sinister and racist way or that it is not being said in a disrespectful way direct to my face. Once I know the context, then I choose from my menu accordingly.

But you know, the Thais aren't the only ones with words for us. If we are really going to get upset, we should be pointing our fingers in every conceivable direction that we can point them in, because believe it or not, nearly every country has a word for a non-native, some are aimed at us white folk, some at other creeds and colours, some are derogative, some are not, but how would you know for sure anyway unless you knew the language.

Anyway, here are a few from around the globe that I have either found amusing or at least comparable to the word Farang:

In Hong Kong you may be called ‘Gweilo', but if you was from main land China they may call you ‘Ah-Chaan' instead, which is a derogatory term used for those that do not have much fashion sense or manners. You can just see it now, “Hey you! ah-chaan, look at the trousers on you neh! And as for those glasses and that haircut, well…”

In Taiwan they may call you ‘Waiguoren' but more likely ‘Ah Tuo Gah' which, literally means "pointed nose" and while we are on the subject of noses, let us not forget the Jews, who very much deserve the title ‘big nose' too… If you put into this Barbara Streisand and Barry Manilow too then we really are in for some nasal amusement… But let me ask you, are we all really going to get upset because someone refers to us with a word that describes our big hooter?

The Cambodians I believe may call you ‘Barang', whereas in Mexico they amongst other things call you a Bolillo (a name of a white bread roll) and one which may upset you if you prefer to eat healthier brown bread and get upset by dietary references.

If you are English and happen to find yourself in Portugal , the Portuguese may call you a ‘Bife' and this is apparently deemed to be a derogatory word because it refers to how English people go red as they get tanned and as such the word is derived from the colour of uncooked beef. I personally can think of several words that are associated with beef that would be far more insulting than Bife, for example, you ugly fat cow, you are a bloody mad cow, look at the udders on her and so on…

The Japanese and Koreans who must really hate each other have a multitude of words to describe one another. Apart from the well know one where the Japanese call all of the Koreans ‘garlic eaters', which let's face it would only ‘really' be offensive to a Vampire, may also fall back on and use a really derogative word for the Koreans and call them a ‘Chon', but please don't ask me what it means because I don't know.

The Koreans in response may call the Jappo's a Chock-Bari or a Jok Bali which apparently is really really REALLY offensive. But the one I like the best from the Koreans is ‘Yang Nom” which literally translates to "Yankee bastard" which as a Brit I know we sometimes use towards our American counter parts too (no real offence to you Yankee doodle dandies out there) and can be used to simply refer to a white person too.

But wait, the Hong Kong Chinese, not wanting to let the Koreans have it all their own way with the Japanese, may also call them ‘Lo Bak Taau' which literally means “Daikon Head” which I particularly like because it sounds very similar to the British name calling of ‘Dick head'.

The Chinese may call you ‘Lo Faan' or ‘Lao Wei' which means ‘barbarian' or they may go that little further and call you a white devil instead (Yangguizi), while the Indonesians will simply call you a ‘Bule'

Apart from the word Farang which the Thais levy at us, if you are a Sikh living here, then they may call you a ‘Chuk' and unless Cilla Black offends you with her singing where you may want to ‘chuck' her away ‘chuk' or you have had a bad movie experience with a Yank called ‘Chuk' Norris then it simply isn't that offensive. If you are wondering, the word chuk actually refers to the thing that Sikhs wear on their heads and if you are going to wear something that makes you a name-calling target then don't be surprised when it actually happens.

The last one I know and the best one by far is the word ‘Al Ferengi' which comes from the Arab nations. Not only does it sound like some back water bar singer, it apparently is also used to describe a foreigner, especially one that is disliked or distrusted… it was also used to describe a big eared, bad toothed, slightly 19th Century English style dressed alien race in Star Trek, called the Ferengi. Now we really are talking in the world of international galactic insults…

But you know, you shouldn't get me wrong, I am not going to get into a big debate about all of this being politically correct or not, especially when at the end of the day it all boils down to school ground name calling…. Neer ner de ner nerr, you're a Farang…ya boo rasp! But let's face it; nearly all of us these days complain that the good things associated with being politically correct have all gone waaaaay too far the wrong way, especially when we look back to how it is in our own countries. For example, when you do a comparison back to Europe and look at how the continued expansion of Europe is affecting things, and that they are taking on some very suspect nations into the fold, then things are actually getting far worse back there. Indeed, many native Europeans are now calling for a national identity again because most have lost theirs under the sofa somewhere. In fact, things have got so bad in some countries in the ‘oh so politically correct west', that if you try and fly a Saint Georges Flag in England to denote that you are; dare I say it “English!” for example, then police state UK will come along and tell you to take it down again and will normally only allow them if you are claiming that you are supporting an English football match. Sad, but true!

So to escape this, what do we do? Well we all run away to Thailand or some other paradise to hide out instead, and then what do we do when we get there? We all complain that the natives do things differently to us, that they should speak our language, that they should treat us better and that they should welcome us with open arms, and how dare they be nationalistic and protective of their lands… err hang on a second, aren't we asking them to be politically correct, to be the same as it is back home? But wasn't it the politically correct west way of living, the allowance of immigrants to buy our lands, to own our corner shops, to take our jobs and so forth one of the reasons that made us all run away in the first place? So why the hell are we attempting to bring it all with us then?

So when the Thais call us Farang, I know it's because the Thais are not as politically correct as we are back home. I also think about and consider this one point, that if the Thais are actually only defending what we now all seek again, “a national identity” so are we not being bigotted in our expectations when we get here? Anyway I apologise, I think I am digressing from the main point a little.. But as we are on the subject of being politically correct, if what we are all getting hung up on is just words, in this case the word ‘Farang', then let's put it into perspective and have a look at a few words that have been used and abused back home over the years and then let's see if we still feel bad about hearing this word.

For example, we all know that for years now we haven't been able to call a black board a black board (despite the fact that it is a board, that funnily enough is also black) summing it up as a “chalkboard” instead. Then as time went on, the chalk board was replaced with the “white board”, yet somehow, and I have yet to figure out why, but this has not been considered a bad thing under the provisions of being poltically incorrect, why is that? Anyway, if we go back to the chalk board debate, and consider that you may use white chalk with this ‘chalk board', then it denotes that the term ‘chalky white' will come into play because this is the residue from using a “white” piece of chalk right?

Now, if I recall correctly, apart from a 1970's sitcom that termed the word ‘Chalky' to refer to white people, I too as a fair skinned person ‘may' (but never would) find it all very offensive because how dare someone intone my skin colour because of the residue of some white chalk dust… errrr ok, let's all use red chalk (no it could offend the Indians), how about blue chalk (no, it will offend all the non royalists), how about yellow chalk (no, it would offend the Chinese) and so on… do you get the point, at the end of the day it's all just words that get taken to the extreme.

In fact, let's continue this word debate further. In England recently, during the Christmas period (am I allowed to even say this word anymore?) it has now been declared that we now have to call “Christmas tree lights”, “winter tree lights” instead? I mean come on, how far down the poltically correct path do we all have to spiral here. Will it all end in a world consisting of non derogatory grunts groans and symbols that have no way of upsetting anyone… but you know even then someone somewhere may find a way to get upset. I can see it now… “Did you just say ‘ugh!' to me? How dare you insult me by implying that I am stupid with that grunt of a tone! Let's go and grab a pistol and have a duel”

Anyway, I think I have made my point about the word Farang being just a word and as phrase ‘sticks and stones will hurt my bones but names will never hurt me' and all that… then I guess I should now go before some politically correct liberalist comes and puts me to rights and so I will now go onto explain how I react when I hear the word ‘Farang' using my menu options

Menu option 1 – Ignore it.

Yup! That's right, I can just simply ignore it. I figure that the person using it is possibly ignorant, or stupid or a combination of both. Perhaps in the limited education they have received, they are simply using a word they think is acceptable because they don't know any different.

If you tell a child to use a word or if a child actually hears a word that is used to describe someone or something then they are going to go on and use that word and unless someone in their politically correct frame of mind comes along and tells them otherwise then they are just going to continue to go on and continue using the word all through their life.

Don't forget, we are talking Thailand here. The parents use this word, the general public use this word, the TV news presenters use this word, taxis have it displayed on their windows, even the expat community here publish an English paper called ‘Farang' but worst of all, the teachers in the Thai schools, the place of education where they ‘could' mould minds but choose not to, even use this word. So shit man, what word is the average Thai Joe going to use… well it's the word “Farang” of course because it is used ‘all the time'.

So the way I look at it, unless someone is aggressively in my face, jibing me, or insulting me on a personal level then I personally am always going to just choose option 1 on my menu and ‘ignore' it. No conflict, everyone is Sabai Sabai and everyone goes merrily on their way.

Menu Option 2 – Tune in and Listen

Well think about it. If you hear the word ‘Farang' the chances are someone somewhere is discussing you or gossiping about another Farang, so it makes sense to tune in and listen to what is being said. Ok you may not understand all that they are saying but if you have been here a while or have chosen this place as your home then you will have (or at least should have) picked up a certain amount of vocabulary and as such maybe able to ascertain some of what they are saying.

I know in work for example that we pretend to not know a single word of Thai and as we never let them know that we can understand, our Thai colleagues think it is safe enough for them to openly talk about us and it's usually (but not always) the word Farang that alerts us to this fact and then all ears prick up. It's amazing what ‘truths' the two faced face saving Thais will say about you, but the key thing here is, is that one you have tuned in and have listened to what is being said and in what context etc… then you can decide to either action menu option 1 or go onto menu option 3.

Menu Option 3 – React

Reacting to the word Farang being used is, I believe, very much a contextual or circumstantial thing. If for example it was a complete stranger who I didn't know and they where using the word then I would probably use menu option one and simply ignore it or I could say something like “Mai chai nuk Thong Teow” (I am not a tourist) or “Mai Chai Farang” (I am not a Farang) but 99.9% of the time I just ignore them and say nothing. However, if that person was in my face and saying openly and blatantly “Hey you Farang” then I may well respond… no I will change that, I would definitely respond because it would be very confrontational and very rude for a Thai to do this and would be no different (in my eyes) to him coming up and saying “Hey you dickhead” and as such reacting to it would be a fair thing to do. How you react however is altogether a different matter and getting into a scrap with a nationalistic Thai who has several hundred Thais stood behind him wouldn't be the recommended reaction.

To be honest though, I have only ever seen the word Farang used like this once, where a student (M.1) at the school said “hey you Farang” to one of the teachers and I can tell you that the poor kid instantly regretted it because about 3 Foreign teachers descended on him to ‘educate' him.

I also know that sometimes the teachers will turn around to a student if they hear the word farang within the school by saying “Mai Chai Farang, phom Bpen Kruu / Ajarn” or “Phom Chuu Pete” follwoed by “Kow jai mai?” where the kids normally responds with a nod and a Wai and then gets the piss taken out of him by the other students.

The other instance when I may react is when I am with people who know me and this is when the use of the word Farang is simply not acceptable. I spend a lot of time with my wife's company and get invited to all the parties that the company throws, and as such I get to mingle with her friends, her bosses and her colleagues. Every one of them knows who I am, they know my name and generally they are very polite, very respectful and always call me by my name. However, occasionally, I will hear the word Farang being used and as I am the only token foreigner around then the chances are I am being referred to or they are asking how to get other foreigners to use their services or in some cases how they too can have a foreign boyfriend/husband. Well it's at these times that I do openly go off and educate them and tell them that they are speaking bad Thai by referring to me or indeed anyone who is not a Thai as a Farang and I am always met with an apology and a sheepish look and then everyone is back to being friends again. The process is working but they do occasionally slip up and I have to point it out to them again… but the way I see it, is that within our own circles we can and do make some small progress.

So for me at least that's the reaction I have to the word Farang. Personally, I just see it as name-calling. We have our own list of words to describe foreigners, we even have our own words to describe Thais, so why are we upset when they have words to describe us; they are after all just words.

Should I or anyone else be the one to educate the average Thai Joe on the street? Hell no! I am not a Jehovah witness, I am not a bible basher, I am not even an ‘in your face' conflict kind of guy, so who the hell am I to try and educate the masses to their

perceived wrong use of a word that they have been using the best part of their lives… it's like trying to convince a Hill Billy Hik that moonshine really is no good for them and that they should stop drinking and shooting things with their 12 bore shotgun. It just ain't going to happen.

So remember guys, you are in Thailand, you are the uninvited guests here, who cares what they call us, it's not really that derogative a word and just like all the immigrants who have landed on our shores back home and for whom we have many names for… it's all just sticks and stones.


Stickman's thoughts:

I ignore the farang word, doesn't particularly bother me, though that is not so say I like it either… Like a lot of things in Thailand, I have found that ignoring it is the best way to deal with things…