Readers' Submissions

Being a Farang…

  • Written by Lookpapa
  • April 25th, 2007
  • 5 min read


China Hotel Guide
• Floral Plaza Hot Spring Hotel
• Fu Hao Hotel
• Fu Hua Jin Bao Hotel
• Golden Palace Silver Street Hotel


If you are an occasional /regular visitor to Thailand you’re bound to hear the term “farang” applied to you frequently by Thais.

This is a word used to describe a person of mostly Caucasian origin, irrespective of their nationality.

The term “farang” originated from the name for French expressed in Thai as “Farangset”, who were supposed to have been the first Europeans having visited Thailand. Now the word “farang” is used generally by Thais to describe any “Western” person.

The Thais maintain that it’s not a derogatory term and it’s simply a practical way to indicate that the person is not Thai or indeed Asian.

From the perspective of “farangs”, especially those who made their home in Thailand, it is generally a sore point of contention to be called a “farang”.

I have to say it’s not universally so with all “farangs”, some of them got so used to it after a while that they totally accept it, but for me in my 6 years of living there, it never ceased to be a cause for irritation.

I’m proud to be a non-discriminatory person and don’t like generalizations and labeling.

I never forgot the day of my wedding in an upcountry village when about a hundred local people gathered in the family home of my wife to wait for our arrival for the ceremony and when I got there an excited buzz went around the compound with people exclaiming; “Farang Mae Laew”. I got to tell you, I felt like an alien from outer space; it was not very comforting on this special occasion for me and my bride.

But the bandying about of this word “farang” in every day situations is a bit off putting, especially in the many instances the people knew me by name or title and it was quite impersonal to be treated this way.

Since I managed to learn a fair bit of the Thai language, it was always pissing me off to be called a farang in my presence.

When I tried to explain this to some people, they just smiled as if they could not understand why I was so sensitive or upset when they meant me no harm. What they failed to comprehend was that using the term “farang” smacks of inherent racism, exclusion and non-acceptance as part of the group. Of course this trait of the Thais is evident in “name calling” of other racial types too; like “khaek” for Indians, “negro” for blacks etc. They’re not exactly complimentary about their own ethnic people either if they hail from Isaan, Laos, Khmer or Burma.

One expression I frequently heard Thais say about me was-“farang loo maak”-, literally translated, ”farang knows too much”. This was not meant that I was knowledgeable about world affairs, economics, politics etc, but rather that I knew too much about the Thai ways and they should be careful of what they say in my presence.

Those people who try to excuse the Thais of using terms like “farangs” fail to acknowledge the racial aspects of this.

When a group of people, very different in their cultures, languages and even appearances are labeled as one homogenous group thereby denying their individual identities, it’s very demeaning and insensitive to them.

However this seems to escape the consciousness of most Thai people and it’s being perpetuated by people in authority and more importantly by educators, thereby ensuring that the usage remains in vogue. Hearing adults referring to you as “farangs” is bad enough but hearing school children do the same is much worse.

Even worse than this , we westerners living in Thailand are so conditioned and brainwashed by this that we perpetuate the custom by calling ourselves farangs. Could this be similar to what they call the “Stockholm Syndrome”?

I’m also guilty of this, I should have insisted from the beginning to be referred to by my name or as that ”aussie bloke”.

Incidentally, we were visiting Sydney recently for about a week and one day my wife and I had lunch in a Thai eatery. The place had an open kitchen which is very trendy over there and it means that you can see all the ingredients and cooking while you sit at your table. Of course they’re all Thais working there and there is only Thai spoken to each other while they’re working.

One of the kitchen hands, a young guy, was speaking rather loudly and raved on about farangs and their habits in a non-complimentary manner, unbeknown to him that some of us can understand Thai. When finished our meal and just before we left, I walked over to him and tapped him on the shoulder, telling him in Thai that now that he is in Oz, he is the farang here, so the shoe is on the other foot. (The last bit my wife said, my Thai is not that good, but I can tap shoulders in Thai pretty good). His boss overheard this and came to apologize and told him to shut up (considering that he was probably an illegal worker, that was good advice).

To tell you the truth, it gave me some satisfaction to make him feel what I was feeling for 6 years over there.

Stickman's thoughts:

I am not fond of being called farang by people who know my name, but by people who don't know me, it really doesn't bother me. I truly believe that a lot of people using this term do not mean any offence at all.