Stickman Readers' Submissions May 2nd, 2013

Overuse Of The Word “Farang”

Hi Mr. Stick,

Maybe this topic has been given a good airing before, maybe it is controversial, maybe it is just me being pedantic.

He Clinic Bangkok

Maybe some of your readers could be interested.

As an expat Kiwi living in the North of Thailand, I am far from being politically correct, but I am starting to feel uneasy about the overuse of this word "farang".

2,000 years ago, the Germanic tribes living to the north of the Roman Empire were known by the Latin word 'Franci".

CBD bangkok

They controlled the ford over the River Rhine which gave rise to the naming of Frankfurt (Ford of the Franci's).

As Rome and Latin declined, these people became known as Franks in the developing European languages.

Circa 600AD the Franks supplied much of the input into the Crusades. Their Arabic and Persian adversaries named them "Farangi". A localised pronunciation. This was a derogatory term meaning white skinned Christian.

From the original Latin Franci evolved the words :

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Francais (French)

Frangos (Greek)

Frenk (Turkish)

Afranj (Arabic)

Farangi (Persian)

Pfirangi (Sanskrit)

Firang (Hindi)

Farang (Thai)

Barang (Khmer)

Ferrengi (Malay)

Palangi (Polynesia)

In most cases, the word means white skinned Christian from Western Europe. Most scholars would submit that the word was exported eastwards by Muslim traders.

The history is both racist and religious. While living in Bangkok, I do not recall I ever heard this word used by a Thai. However in the Thai Isaan region and the Northern Lanna region it is used constantly, mainly by people from USA who have married locals. It has now appeared to come into the American English language as a synonym for foreigner living in Thailand. In my more than 20 years of coming and going this word is growing in its usage and to be rude, is becoming bastardised as well as being given distorted pronunciations.

Most Thais know that the majority of foreigners who live in Thailand are from Myanmar, China, Laos, India etc and tend not to use the word ad nauseum because it only applies to relatively small part of the population.

Given that my children are adopted and of Asian ethnicity and my grandchildren are all part Polynesian as well, I am conscious of the need to reduce instances of racism.

My own solution is to use a person's exact nationality or his/her name. Failing that expat is a good neutral term.

Most people in Thailand, particularly the Thais themselves, are people of good humour. We are far from the world's main hot spots. Folk like Bader Meinhoff and Al Qaeda never seem to be keen to operate here in Thailand. We that base ourselves here should try to be people without too much PC attitude and over sensitivity.

But my observation of history tends to suggest that when you divide people by race or religion that is when the trouble starts.

If ever Thailand got a leader who was a follower of former South African political theory we could get Farangs to the left and non farangs to the right.

Recently a Singaporean of Chinese origin called me farang. That was a bit rich as my skin colour is darker than hers. It is not uncommon to hear Chinese in a foreign country call local people "those foreigners" which is what bugs me about these terms which may have negative connotations.

Another question. The most responsible position in the world at this time is President of USA. Is Barack Obama a farang or just an honorary farang for the duration?

However to finish on a lighter note, an Englishman friend of mine was married to a Filipina. Their son aged four years and very precocious amused them both greatly when he announced that the result of his deep thinking was his realisation that he was half Filipino and half human!

Stickman's thoughts:

I personally don't have a problem with the word, but I acknowledge that many do. Sure, there are some locals who spit it out in a way that suggets they have little respect for whitey, but I believe they make up a small minority. Many are simply embarrassed or not articulate enough to refer to people differently. I really wouldn't get upset about it!

nana plaza