For the 1,458,021st time, the "farang" debate
Andrew Biggs weighs in today ....
Hey, you, farang! Why so sensitive?
Published: 11/03/2012 at 03:12 AM
Newspaper section: Brunch
Foreigners can get awfully touchy when Thais use the 'F' word, but while in some instances it may be spat out venomously, in most cases it's just a handy way to separate those from the West and the rest
We are halfway through our examination of the word ''farang'', thanks to my running into an old friend, Jimmy, at Emporium last week.
Jimmy is an Australian a couple of years younger than me and bearing more than a slight resemblance. Thais have a hard enough time telling Westerners apart, but the tall bald ones with the Aussie accents? I am proud to say they are all Andrew Biggs, providing they behave themselves.
Jimmy was troubled, but not because he looked like me. He'd been called a farang and despite a dozen years in this country, he still wasn't comfortable with it.
We discussed this last week in this column, but being so caught up in my own experiences I failed to explain what happened to Jimmy. And here it is: ''I was buying something from a shop in Central Rama 9,'' Jimmy told me.
''This guy, the owner, was in his forties, well-educated, and I'd been in there once before. We spoke in Thai and in English and we were very friendly.
''But twice, to my face, he referred to me as a farang,'' said Jimmy. ''For example, when he called out to his staff to prepare the receipt for me, he referred to me as a farang.''
The second time was the straw that broke the camel's back. Jimmy, in his kind and placating tone, said to the guy: ''May I suggest something?''
The man was intrigued.
''Don't call me a farang to my face. We don't like it and it doesn't sound very nice to us.''
I can imagine the guy's reaction. He was mortified. He apologised profusely. I am sure it wasn't Jimmy's intent to upset the guy, but Jimmy has one good point.
He was the only one in the store.
''Had there been 10 people there, and I was the only one, and he needed to single me out from the rest, I wouldn't have minded,'' said Jimmy. ''But that wasn't the case.''
An interesting line of thought: It's OK for Jimmy to be called a farang if he's being singled out, but not as a way of referring to him when he's all alone? I get it. I don't know if I agree with it, but I get it.
After 23 years in Thailand, 16 books in Thai, 1,647 columns in Thai and one bachelor's degree in the language, I believe I am familiar enough with the language to know that farang is not overtly derogatory _ but it can be if need be. But aren't there many words like that?
I write books in Thai where I refer to myself and to other foreigners as farang. At the same time, I can bristle if some shop assistant casually tars me with the farang brush as she calls to her friend for help. Am I suffering from double standards here? Am I being a hypocrite?
It is like the ''N'' word in America. In the Billboard charts this week there is a song called ''Niggers In Paris'', only they write it, street-chic, as Niggas In Paris.
In the Billboard chart this title is so offensive it cannot be written in full. Instead, it is rendered as ''Ni**as In Paris''.
But wait a minute. The singers of this song are two black guys! Jay Z and Kanye West proudly call themselves ''niggers'' in the song, as do a plethora of other black singers and rappers all over the music charts in any given week.
What if I were to meet any of these young men and used the same word? Would I be alive to write this column in Brunch next week?
(One wonders how Jay Z and Kanye West would react if they knew a popular way to say a black person in Thai is ''nig-ro''. Can a Thai sing ''Nig-ros in Paris'' and not incur their wrath?)
Such double standards can be found in the word farang as well. I use it to refer to myself in Thai, so why do I bristle when the Robinson salesgirl uses it on me? Because I'm white and she's not? Man there's some serious stuff going on inside me if that's the case.
Actually if a Thai really wants to show his distaste for us, there are other ways.
There is ''Ai-rang'', an amalgamation of the offensive prefix ''ai'' used for a man (''ee'' for a woman) and a short form of farang. I was called this by a workman on a Chanthaburi bridge under construction as I tried to cross it.
It was more a show of bluster in front of his mates, but I really did want to jump out of my car and punch his lights out, which I didn't, for fear one of his friends might carjack my vehicle more than a desire to be a civil human being.
There is also farang ''khi-nok'' but we need to go to the dictionary first before we explain that one.
The origin of the word farang is hazy. It either comes from the French or the Persians during the Ayutthaya era a few hundred years ago when farang, I'm sorry, Westerners, started trickling into Siam.
It could be a short form of ''farang-set'', the Thai word for ''French'', or ''faran-ji'' from the Persian language.
My weighty official Royal Thai Dictionary tells me a ''farang' is a ''light-skinned ethnic group from outside the country''. It's also ''a small to medium-sized plant, the psidiumguajava, which bears fruit'', better known as the guava.
From this latter definition we get farang khi-nok, to which my readers lounging around Khao San Road sipping on banana shakes may like to take particular notice.
Translated literally, it is a ''bird-sh*t guava'', though the dictionary defines it as a ''small, red guava'' which birds eat before pooping out the seeds as they fly all around the place.
It also has an idiomatic meaning or two. The dictionary defines it as a ''Thai person who tries to act like a farang'', but the more common understanding is that of a backpacker _ a smelly, dirty Westerner who travels around on cheap buses and trains, spending as little money as possible.
I have spent two decades trying to educate Thais about the injustice of this definition. I may as well have been trying to sign them up for Scientology. To this day a dirty, or ugly, or impoverished Westerner is a farang khi-nok and neither Jimmy nor I have any doubts about its derogatory meaning.
Another point I made to Jimmy is that Thais are very aware that we don't like it. Just last week I was in beautiful, beautiful Chiang Rai for work. I had dinner with some local provincial administration officials.
''How do you feel about the word farang?'' I was asked by one high-ranking woman. She was genuinely interested in my reply.
''I need time to think about my answer,'' I said. ''In the meantime, ask me something simple like the meaning of life or the way to solve the Middle East crisis.''
Whether farang is derogatory or not often depends on what side of the bed I woke up on today. If I've had a good night's sleep I don't mind if that Robinson shop girl calls me that.
So maybe we foreigners don't have to get upset by the word. After all, what's wrong with being a farang? What's wrong with being any race for that matter (unless you're a Rohingya _ they seem to cop the blunt end of the world stick)?
I left Jimmy at the Robinson Food Hall happy to see my old friend again, but also happy in the knowledge that somewhere out there Jimmy is spreading the word, like some linguistic missionary, as I am too, ever wanting to educate and inform Thais.
Can we live with the fact that we all look the same in the eyes of Thais? Can we live with the fact we can't be told apart and thus are collectively referred to as farang?
Of course we can. Look where it gets Jimmy when a pretty girl asks him if he's Andrew Biggs.
To me it means, you're not Thai. Wow, you mean to say I'm not Thai? I've been fooling myself all these years?
it's rude and thoughtless to remind someone who is obviously wanting to fit in that he doesn't.
to me it means 'howdy'
I thought you you meant howdy.
"You really want to save the planet?...the next time you see a hybrid car with a childseat... smash the window, remove the childseat and replace it with a box of condoms..." Doug Stanhope
I worked with him a few times. When he's out in public the fucking Thai people treat him like a god. I've never seen anything like it.
Yes, up his own butt...big time.
Seems "fame" has gone to his head.
He got some lucky breaks to be where he is now.
He doesn't actually write that well.
"Farang"....I hardly ever heard that word around me when I was in Thailand.
(yet another )
There are a few on this board who do the same. He could have said, I was with some people in Chang Rai ...But it has to be, while I was playing golf at a private club with the wealthiest of locals ..... Stinky personality.
I don't enjoy reading him but IMO he has very good rhythm.
Farang (Thai: ฝรั่ง [faràŋ]) is a generic Thai word for someone of European ancestry, no matter where they may come from. People of African ancestry from western countries are occasionally called in Thai: ฝรั่งดำ farang dam ('black farang') to distinguish them from Africans. This began during the Vietnam War, when the United States military maintained bases in Thailand.
Exploration and understanding
During the Vietnam War, American military presence increased in Thailand. This experience provided a unique impression of Americans/Westerners for many Thai people. However, the hostility that is often expressed through the use of farang goes beyond military presence. Western religions, lifestyles, eating habits, family dynamics, ideas about respect and independence, clothing styles, language, and even appearance, directly clash with those of the Thai people.
Globalization and other factors have brought about a strange relationship between Thais and foreigners. As Anna Tsing explains in "The Global Situation", globalization's world-making flows have acted much like water rushing down a hillside, carving rocks, moving gravel, switching courses, and constantly recreating channels. Globalization's flow through Thailand has affected the country both in positive and negative ways. Some stones were upturned and broken down by the water's force and others were strengthened and fortified by that same force. The word farang teeters on the boundary between positive and negative in Thailand.
The ebbs and flows of Globalization continue with tourism. Tourism in Thailand is a large industry, both sex and otherwise. As Ara Wilson discusses in her book The Intimate Economies of Bangkok, this industry is intertwined with and affected by Gender Identities in Thailand. Tourism, in combination with a history of impoverishment, has led some Thai people to associate westerners with money. “Tourism is the major foreign exchange earner, with over 11 million tourist arrivals in 2004.” This association with money and power can lead to a rock star treatment of foreigners; many privileges and a great deal of respect often come to those with white skin. Awe and admiration for foreigners is commonplace. The word suey ('beautiful') often follows the word farang. The idea that white is beautiful is reinforced by store shelves full of skin-whitening products. Thai people also, historically and today, are interested in keeping Thailand for the Thais. This idea has spread into the cultural identity of the farang, both with fees often four times as large at parks and temples, and by restricting visas for spouses of Thai people. All of this is interconnected to the fact that Thais pay close attention to farang in their home country.
Hey Cluz, do you know if any of those Thai slant soldiers fighting with the Japanese ever killed one of our guys? And don't you just know they were wearing flip flops on the battlefield.
Andrew needs his teeth cleaned.
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