Readers' Submissions

The Farang Debate

  • Written by Max Black
  • March 10th, 2006
  • 4 min read


Black Pagoda Patpong Bangkok

Here's a comment on the farang question. Statler and Waldorf has some very good points, about the farang question. I dislike the use of farang myself, and try to correct it, or overhear it, when heard.

I have travelled to Asia the last 15 years, to several countries including many trips to Thailand. I always come for business (sometimes with an extra day or 2 for pleasure…) and during all my years coming here no one has ever used the farang term (or more correct: it could have happened in the first years before I knew the word) in business meetings, or visiting factories. It is always Khun Max, never farang.

I have talked with some of the Thai business people I know about the farang term. And even though some consider it a neutral word, others think it is a rude word. But even the ones considering farang a neutral word, never use it when I am around….

The managing director of one of the companies I wor with hase instructed his staff not to use the farang term, not only when they have foreign customers visiting, but also in the daily life at the office, they are instructed not to use the word farang.

Visiting Bangkok I normally stay at the more expensive (4-5 star) hotels, while I often needs to have a meeting or two at the hotel during my trip, and for the Thais you look more trustworthy staying at the better hotels (you gain more face) than staying at the Nana Hotel or similar.

For me staying at the Nana Hotel and having the company driver come to pick me up there would ruin my reputation at that company. That is for sure.

At the up market hotels (Landmark, Siam Intercontinental (in the old days, now it is Siam Paragon), Shangri-La, Amari etc) you will not hear the word farang used by the staff, or at least that is my experience.

Where I hear the word farang, it is the street hawkers, at the market, in the bars, or in taxis. So I think that it is the more uneducated Thai people who use the word farang, and the more educated know it is not correct.

I always think about farang as the Thai version of the Cantonese word gweilo (white ghost) which is used for male Caucasians in southern China and Hong Kong. The female Caucasian are a gweilo.

The gweilo word is in general a rude word, but then again, some Hong Kong Chinese are rude people. Once driving a taxi in Hong Kong to the airport, the old driver called home to tell them that he would be late because he had to drive this "gweilo" to the airport. I immediately corrected him using some of my obscene Cantonese. The driver was VERY polite on the remaining trip to the airport.

The famous restaurant / bar / disco area in Hong Kong: Lan Kwai Fong was actually known among the Chinese as the "Gweilo Ghetto" because 15 years ago it was 90% Caucasians partying there. Today there are more Chinese than Caucasians there, so nobody calls it the "Gweilo Ghetto" anymore. But still worth a visit for a good night out. Go there a Friday night where the streets are full of the Hong Kong expats drinking like there is no tomorrow.

To me Lan Kwai Fong still beats the Bangkok nightlife easily.

And when the Bangkok nightlife closes, about the same time as Lan Kwai Fong starts to close, you just go to Wan Chai where the party continues until 7-8 the next morning. A nd in Wan Chai you will meet a lot of Thai bargirls when partying!

Considering that the Thais in general are more polite than the Chinese, using the farang term is in my opinion ruder because the Thais normally try not to insult anybody.

Cantonese is a more rough language and the insults / obscene language are used by everyone, everywhere.

Even the hi-so Chinese can be extremely rude towards salespeople / service staff.

I once witnessed a very well dressed hi-so middle-aged Chinese lady suggesting a fruit salesman at a market to go f… his ancestors in an unnatural way. That made me laugh.

My knowledge of the Thai language is rather limited, so I will not catch / hear all insults thrown at me, whereas my Cantonese knowledge are more developed and I understand a lot. But where it is Cantonese a "normal" to speak rudely, it is also easier to accept than in Thailand where you normally don't offend anybody and when such offence is more serious.

I am not suggesting that everybody should fight a war every time we hear the farang word used towards us. But when you think you are together with rather intelligent people, ask them why they are using this term, and that you feel offended when hearing it.

But please be very gentle when explaining the Thais that you don't like the word farang. As all should know by reading this website; Thai's don't handle criticism well at all.

Let's hear some more opinions on this subject, or is it only Statler & Waldorf and I who feel insulted?


Stickman's thoughts:

This is a very interesting debate, of whether the word farang is offensive or not. The one thing I will add is that in the lower echelons of Thai society you do hear some mighty coarse language.