Stickman Readers' Submissions March 4th, 2006

The Case Against The ‘Farang’

Stickman's Guide to Bang

From the Wikipedia:

Farang, sometimes pronounced falang, is the generic Thai word for a white foreigner. It is closely related to the Khmer word Barang. Africans or African-Americans will be occasionally referred to as farang dam (black farang). While generally farang is a neutral word, it can be used as an insult depending on its context. For instance, the expression "farang ta nam khao" (which literally means farang with rice-milk-colored iris) would be considered an insult.

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Farang is also the Thai word for the guava fruit, which of course can lead to "farang eating farang" jokes from Thai people when foreigners are seen eating a guava in Thailand. Stingy or unruly foreigners can therefore also be referred to as kee nok (bird shit), which is the name of a particular variety of guava. Maan farang are potatoes, hence the similar joke "farang gin (eat) maan farang". And stranger still, mak farang is chewing gum.

In the Isaan language, the guava is called mak seeda, which can thus also be used to refer to a farang.

One explanation for the origin of this word is that it is borrowed from the Persian word

farang which means Frankish. Another explanation is that it derives from farangset, which is the Thai pronunciation of français, the French word for 'French' or 'Frenchman'. France was one of the first European nations to establish cultural ties with Thailand in the 17th century, so to Thais at that time, 'white man' and 'Frenchman' were synonymous. Others say that in the Ayuthya period, land was given to the Portuguese merchants to conduct their business at "Baan Farang" (Guava Village).

In Farsi, the word farangi refers to foreigners. In Tamil, the word that refers to Europeans (most specifically to the British) is parangiar, presumably because Tamil does not have the "F" sound. Many South Asian and Southeast Asian languages including Malay, also use this word to denote foreigners.

To me, it does not matter where it came from or how many people use it. It matters more how I feel to be called farang. It feels like shit. Why is that? As I said before in one of my submissions, I worked in Kenya for a long period of time. White people like me are called msungu there. It never offended me at all, because it had no funny undertone. Farang does, because it has an insulting undertone. Nobody says farang to my face, I will correct them instantly to khon thang chad (alternative suggestions welcome). And guess what? The Thais apologize. From the taxi driver to the hi-so (of course not ABAC students, they know everything better anyway). Why do they apologize? Because they know deep in themselves, that it is not a nice word. In my extended chats with local girls, sometimes the conversation went down the wrong road, especially when I slightly criticized their beloved Thailand and I have been called farang this farang that. Stupid Farang go out of MY country was the smoothest abuse I can remember, the other slurs were less nice.

To me, the word farang, which I disliked from the start, became more and more negative. I feel like throwing up looking at the taxi signs I like farang – it sounds to me like I stop for animals. Well, with the one difference, I stop for animals is actually meant from the heart. I like farang is not. They don't like us. (But they surely like our money – imagine Thailand without it.) They don't take us into their society. If they would really like us, they would.

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In Kenya, I was part of the society. Here, after more than two years, I am still no more accepted than in the first week. And I am sure, even in ten years it would be no different, actually less, because they will be more suspicious about what has kept me here so long…

The only western person I know who is integrated is a good friend of mine, a woman who has married into the NA so and so family. She has been here for over 40 years and she met her husband in her country. I am not sure if she would be a man and would not have married into this well respected family, if she or in that case he would be accepted here.

We are all just tolerated, you see it especially in the laws, how much or how little we are allowed to undertake in Thailand. Thais are xenophobic to the bone. And ultra nationalist. We all know that. The contradictive thing about them is: Their culture is a total mix of many other cultures. The wai and the religion comes from India, their cuisine is a mix of India, China and what not. They are a total fusion society, but with one difference: They think it comes from within themselves. You tell a Thai that the only original Thai food is rice, he will go through the roof. They really think they invented it all, the curry and the wai.

It's like we the Swiss would think we invented the spaghetti, just because it has become over time one of our normal dishes. But their nationalism is irrational like everything in Thailand. The models and actresses they worship so much are mixed Thai/Western and many women prefer non-Thai husbands, not only for the money reason. If they loved Thailand and its culture so much as they pretend, why they would want to have a foreign husband? Would a KKK member marry a non Caucasian? Even the prime minister who is Chinese but runs a party called Thai love Thais, sells his business to Singapore and will invest his money in Burma. So, to me the Thai nationalism is a joke. Well to the Thais it's not, but then, they have been indoctrinated and are brain washed from childhood.

Once I was with a girl, and we talked about the farang issue. I told her that I don't like the word. She says she had been taught in school not to use it in front of a white person. Aha. Interesting. They also don't call an Indian kek in front of him. To us, in most cases they don't hesitate. Why? Because we call ourselves farang. We idiots. But this is explainable to some point. Most of the foreigners just come for two or three weeks, and they have other problems (like over coming the culture shock) than to care for what name they are called. The other foreigners (with hopefully many exceptions!) who are here seem to care more about getting laid and / or drunk every night than about building a good reputation for themselves and their fellow expats. Maybe we don't deserve the respect of the Thais. That is the other side of the story.

Of course if you ask a Thai, he or she would deny that farang has any negative meaning. But then, they would say that even they know that mostly it's used negatively. They would not want that you to feel negatively about Thailand or Thai people. How would it be if they admit farang is a negative word? It would mean that they actually admit that they don't like us in general. They would never do that. But on the other hand, if you don't call Bangkok or Thailand the only paradise on earth, they are insulted. The Thais are so easily insulted! For reasons we can not rationally understand. Let me think of a word that is similar to farang to call the Thais. Mmmh: Brownies? Slint eyes? Would they like it? I

guess not. But on the other hand, they care little about our feelings. 'Farang' means literally barbarian (from it's Greek / Arab whatever origin) and that is still the way the Thais use it in their every day language. Of course they don't think about it, but then thinking is not a Thai sport.

So it has to come from us. We have to tell them we don't like to be called 'farang' i.e. barbarian. To me, every foreigner who uses 'farang' for himself is a bit naïve in my western eyes.

The farang issue is open for discussion and reflection. Including me – I just wrote down how I felt about it.

Stickman's thoughts:

Great food for thought. It would be GREAT to get more thoughts on how others feel about being called farang. Does it bother you at all?

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