Culture and politics forum

Being called farang. Is it racist?

  • sayadian

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    There's a discussion in todays Bangkok Post about the widespread use of the word farang in Thailand.I accept but dislike being referred to in this way.How do other people feel?
    Is it racist?
    Is it the equivalent of calling a black man 'a darkie?'
    The Chinese often call white people 'kwai loh' which is offensive. Is farang the same?

    #1 Posted: 5/8/2009 - 20:45

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  • whiteelepha-
    nt

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    Its not considered derogatory by Thais. There's offensive versions tho farang kii nok for eg, but common use I don't think is offensive. It's a derivative of the Thai for the French - farangset. In Cambodia barang. Indo buleh. Not sure about Vietnam.

    #2 Posted: 5/8/2009 - 22:28

  • BruceMoon

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    sayadian

    Is 'farang' racist?

    Racist is the adjective for racism.

    I am of the understanding that farang came from faranset, which was what the French were called. And, has now been fashioned to refer to a white-skinned anglo-saxon type foreigner.

    The term is not applied to foreigners per se, as black people are referred to as khon dam, and Chinese (Han type) people called khon chin.

    So, as the term applies to westerners in general, and as Thai don't choose to use khon kow, it clearly has connotations other than nationality or skin colour.

    But, is the term 'farang' racist?

    Wiktionary describes racism as:

    1. The belief that each race has distinct and intrinsic attributes.
    2. The belief that one race is superior to all others.
    3. Prejudice or discrimination based upon race.

    To my way of thinking, racism has been discouraged in the western discourse because users cannot differentiate between points 1, 2 or 3: the use of race implies all three aspects.

    While the Thai may say "Oh, we don't mean any offence, we say it in a nice way", the fact is that by not using skin colour, or nationality, and collectively lumping all western (anglosaxon derived) peoples as 'farang', there is both an implicit and overt tendency to join all three attributes.

    And, as farang is used in a derogatory manner at times, it clearly has a racist meaning.

    Many peoples have a common 'whipping boy' approach to others. The French and British are good examples, as are Canadians and US-Americans.

    I think there may be an element of western/Asian in the use of the term farang, but as it is also used in a derogatory manner, I don't 'buy' that as a reason.

    So, my feeling is that farang is racist, and used that way (whether willingly, or unwittingly).

    [colour=red]Cheers

    #3 Posted: 6/8/2009 - 09:38

  • somsai

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    No, not. Or rather no more racist than the Thais themselves.

    I'm not concerned where a word comes from but where and why it's used. There are much worse words used for white people in Laotian, I'm sure there are the equivalent in Thai. (I won't repeat them here) The word falang itself carries no baggage. Amusing though that the other racial or ethnic examples, kon dam, kon jin, both used the word kon, or person.

    Mandarin has a similar word, which is used mostly on the mainland, where as the common name on Taiwan is foreign person, the same as is used for other nationalities or ethnicities. Everyone will tell you there is no racism involved, but I prefer the Taiwanese expression.

    Perhaps it's time for the Thai to move on to "kon kao".

    #4 Posted: 6/8/2009 - 10:21

  • somtam2000

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    Personally, no I don't consider the term to be racist. I use it in speech regularly and if I had a buck for everytime a Thai yelled "Hey Farang" at me, I wouldn't need to run this website! We also use it on Travelfish quite a bit -- for example this from the Pai coverage I'm editing at the moment:

    "The influx of farang with northern Thai wives setting up cafes or guesthouses in Pai has been followed by a second influx of pseudo-hippy types from the further reaches of Chattuchak market and Ko Pha Ngan, who have set up resorts for weekender Thai yuppies from the big cities."

    Racist? Offensive? Perhaps just to those Chattuchak exiles...

    That said, a lot rests on the intent of the speaker and farang can certainly be used in an offensive manner -- as can most any word used to describe a group of people with certain characteristics.

    As an aside, the Indonesian equiv is Bule which means literally albino. It's not considered offensive or racist in every day use, but adding bodoh to it, makes bule bodoh which means (more of less) dumbass white dude -- that's offensive -- especially when you're not a dumbass.

    #5 Posted: 6/8/2009 - 11:39

  • Rufus

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    In Laos definitey no, in Thailand it certainly can be. It depends how it is used. If a Thai says, "Here comes the farang", in a workplaces, then it is definitely a derogatory statement.

    #6 Posted: 6/8/2009 - 12:10

  • SBE

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    Thais just don't seem have the same political correctness as Westerners when it comes to mentioning (obvious) physical characteristics. Look at any job advert in the Bangkok Post and you will see age and nationality requirements.

    And it's not just in Thailand. Someone told me that in South Korea they needed to send a full length photo with height and weight details ....for a primary school teaching job! Physical appearance often seems to matter more than academic qualifications or work experience in SE Asia.

    That's what cultural difference is... a different mindset... and a few decades ago the developed countries in the West had exactly the same attitude. Apartheid in S.Africa and Rhodesia, colour segregated bus seats etc in the US.

    If you can't hack it then go somewhere else. Personally I don't mind. I rarely get referred to as a "farang" by Thai people I know, but when I do they've usually got a wry smile on their faces... it's generally due to some lack of comprehension about Thai ways on my part.

    When I'm referred to as a farang by someone I don't know ..a shop assistant or a waiter for example...it really doesn't bother me much. I think life is too short to get upset by such things.

    #7 Posted: 6/8/2009 - 18:40

  • SBE

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    Buggar, that's what comes of multi-tasking.... THAT EDIT FUNCTION Somtam... SOON ...please!

    #8 Posted: 6/8/2009 - 18:43

  • somtam2000

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    LOL reading your post made me feel like I'd had more Bintang than I had. ok I'll edit it at this end so it makes more sense ok?

    Sheesh farangs!

    #9 Posted: 6/8/2009 - 18:47

  • SBE

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    Ouf! Merci beaucoup Somtam. Multi-tasking in two languages with a glass of red wine to get over yesterday's hangover is not a good idea!

    #10 Posted: 6/8/2009 - 18:55

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  • BruceMoon

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    SBE

    A female is borne to multi-task (or so I'm told).

    I reckon you ought to give up that cheap farangset plonk.

    It's either good quality grog, or give up the turps: no half measure!

    Cheers

    #11 Posted: 6/8/2009 - 20:21

  • Nokka

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    I use a simple rule of thumb for whether terms are racist or not. If the recipient of the 'insult' considers it racist, then its racist. If not, then it isn't. Too often its the user of the word who attempts to justify its use by saying its not meant in a racist way. Wrong way round.

    For example, I don't consider being called a Pommie Bastard by an Aussie particularly racist.(Even though it probably is). I recognise that they use it in an affectionate way, or when we've just beaten them at cricket :)

    #12 Posted: 6/8/2009 - 22:12

  • MADMAC

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    My friends and I had a long discussion about this. I don't consider it a racist term - it needs additions (as mentioned here, like Farang Kie Nock) to be that. A friend of mine tried to compare the term to "Nigra" back home. I disagreed. If a Thai girl goes home and announces she is marrying a Farang, it's usually treated as good news (it means money). If a white woman back home came home and announced she is marrying a nigger, it wouldn't go over so well.

    I have no problem being refered to as a farang.

    #13 Posted: 7/8/2009 - 08:17

  • Thaiman

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    I've got no problem with being called a Farung.To me it is the same as we,in Australia,call people from Asia, Asians.When I get asked where I'm from I usually answer 'I am "khon Thai Farung"'.This nearly always brings a bit of a smile.

    #14 Posted: 7/8/2009 - 14:52

  • BruceMoon

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    Today, I came across the Bangkok Post website on the topic.

    Is farang an f word?

    Interesting read...

    http://www.bangkokpost.com/forum/viewtopic.php?f=64&t=3665&st=0&sk=t&sd=a&start=110

    Cheers

    #15 Posted: 8/8/2009 - 06:54

  • Jon_Mak_Mak

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    I cant' stand it!! (sometimes)

    Well, usually because it IS meant in a derogatory sense, but not every time. It depends who's saying it and in what context.

    The taxi drivers outside hotels and shopping centres shouting “falang bai nai?” I find pretty rude and if someone like my father in-law or sister in-law (Thai) said something like”falang gin alai?” it would be super rude! But they don't do that, they call me by my name as you would expect.

    An example:

    I was doing the monthly boarder run to get a new visa (a few years ago) and as I was coming back in the Thai-side of Poiphet an immigration officer grabbed my arm as I passed him and said “falang bai nai?”, I turned and said “Falang bai Krung Thep!” (with emphasis on the falang) and his jaw just dropped and he said nothing. Don't think he was expecting a response like that. lol

    But it's true that the word comes from the Thai for French and it is broadly and generally used for foreigner. It is also the Thai word for a Guava fruit. Many Thais are racist, that's obvious after spending 10 minutes in Thailand. Our beer, Our country – Nice one... My money! Haha Oh shit, you got that too now.

    BTW, Kon Jeen means Chinese person like Kon Angit means English person and Kon Yee-Bpun means Japanese person so you can't really compare the word 'falang' with them. Another word you might hear if your Arab/Indian/Middle Eastern looking is Kairk (sounds like cake). :)

    Basically, I don't like it but I have learned to live with it and use the word myself sometimes to refer to a person that isn't Thai, but NEVER in a derogatory way. Same as I don't like people referring to my wife as my THAI-wife. If I married an African women would they call her my African-wife??? (probably)

    I've been called more offensive things in Thailand and probably haven't even realised it. If I was called -as someone said- Falang Kee-Nok, (bird shit foreigner) I would just call them something nice and offensive back. I've been learning some good ones like 'c+nt face'.

    My views are from personal experience and are probably very cynical but there ya go

    :)

    Couple of links I glanced over that look useful - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Farang

    http://www.ajarn.com/Contris/matt%20smith/mattsmithfebruary2009.htm

    #16 Posted: 9/8/2009 - 03:01

  • Jon_Mak_Mak

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    Forgot to add, (EEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEDIT button please)

    While riding a moped around some part of south Thailand near Ban Saphan my wife and I were riding through some pretty remote (and some deserted) villages and in one place a young boy in the porch of his house shouted "mair mair do falang falang!!!" (mum look foreigner) and the mother came out to the porch and they just stared at us as we passed. hehehehe.

    My wife and I thought this was very funny. This child might not of ever seen a 'real life falang' before, I bet he told his friends.

    #17 Posted: 9/8/2009 - 03:52

  • sayadian

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    What about the scenario I've often heard about from expats in Thailand. A car comes out of a soi and knocks you off your motorbike.The driver is Thai but he sees you are a farang.The police look at you as a farang and on that basis you are the driver 'in the wrong' and have to pay for the damgage.Doesn't that make the term racist? As a farang you are second class and that's what I associate with the term.sure it can be used by your friends in jest, as can the chinese Kwai Loh, which is pretty offensive.But,most Thais use it to describe what they see as someone of lesser status in thailand, based on race.

    #18 Posted: 9/8/2009 - 20:19

  • somsai

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    Great comment Nokka at #12.

    Sayadian what you describe is for sure racism or perhaps a form of xenophobia but I think it relates more to the act, not the word. I think the word itself is nuetral, it's the only word for westerners in common usage. When I called my daughter kii duh falang (naughty falang)the other day I thought of this thread.

    Much more troubling to me is the denigration of minorities within Thailand. The war on drugs was really a war on Akha and Hmong, the ongoing conflict with Muslims in the south. Many people who have lived in Thailand for generations have trouble getting a Thai passport because they are of the wrong ethnicity. For being such an advanced country, culturaly Thailand has some growing up to do.

    #19 Posted: 9/8/2009 - 22:32

  • Jon_Mak_Mak

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    Agree post #12 is a good veiw!

    Post 18 reminded me of a time when my wife and I were just getting on our moto bike after leaving the restaurant that is opposite the somboon sea view hotel in Bang Saphan.

    A Thai man on a moto bike took a right turn as a big truck was over taking him and WHACK!!!

    He got the truck side on. He skidded on the floor and the truck slowed down and stopped just up the road passed us. A few Thai people came running out the restaurant to help the man and my wife wanted to go help but I said no. I can't get involved. We stood there and watched and as if it was of any relevance what so ever a Thai women looks at me and says FALANG!

    I mean, what exactly could the reason in telling all the Thai people that there was a foreigner be?
    Did they think it happened because a falang was there? Did they think It was my fault because the man was staring at the falang and not looking where he was going? Or, did they think I should pay because I'm super rich? I can't understand that in such a time that a Thai would feel the need to point out that I am not Thai. Very annoying!

    Before anyone thinks I am a cold hearted falang for not helping the man, there were people to help him up so it's not like I left him dying or anything and something similar happened in Ko Phangan with a another bike...

    It was late one night and I was returning from Tong Sala to my bungalow in Haad Yao and the road was a very bumpy mud track. I was on a moped and all of a sudden a (proper) moto bike flew passed me with the passenger turning around and waving/shouting.

    All of a sudden the bike went into a mad wobble from left to right and as the man lost control the bike and to people slide sideways down the road in front of me. The road was very dark and ran in between the beach and the jungle so there was no one around. It could have been dodgy but luckily is wasn't. I stopped and helped the Thai man and women (who where both very drunk) up off the floor and sat them down on the road. The women was in tears and the man could barley talk (stunk of booze too!) but there wasn't any more we could do to help and they both seemed all right so we carried on our way.

    The end.

    #20 Posted: 9/8/2009 - 23:45

  • MADMAC

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    "A car comes out of a soi and knocks you off your motorbike.The driver is Thai but he sees you are a farang.The police look at you as a farang and on that basis you are the driver 'in the wrong' and have to pay for the damgage.Doesn't that make the term racist? As a farang you are second class and that's what I associate with the term.sure it can be used by your friends in jest, as can the chinese Kwai Loh, which is pretty offensive. But,most Thais use it to describe what they see as someone of lesser status in thailand, based on race."

    You are confusing the usage of the word with the racial expectations behind it. It doesn't matter what word were used... what matters is that the non-Thai is seen as in the wrong. Except that my own personal experience contradicts this. Thais are lousy drivers and most expats living here are simply much better schooled in the rules of the road. In EVERY SINGLE CASE so far in my city where there has been an accident, the police have found the Thai in the wrong. Admitedly a small city and small sample size, but as of yet I know of no exception.

    When I have done something wrong I have gotten away with it because I am a falang. We can do things here and get away with them that Thais could never do.

    It's a two edged sword. I like being a falang in Thailand and would rather be a Falang in Thailand than a Thai in Thailand.

    #21 Posted: 10/8/2009 - 01:03

  • sayadian

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    'and that's what I associate with the term.'
    Madmac
    I think post #20 sums up exactly the feeling I get when I hear this word.
    Referring to my accusation that non-Thais are perceived as always in the wrong in a road accident you replied
    'Except that my own personal experience contradicts this'
    all I can say is the place you live must be an awful lot different to the rest of Isan/Thailand.
    I've been married to a wonderful lady from Ubon for 22 years and during that time we have spent a lot of time in Isan.It is one of my favourite places in Asia.I have travelled/backpacked around the area on many occasions during those years and can remember a time I could spend two or three weeks there without hearing or speaking English or seeing another 'farang':).during those years Isan was one of the friendliest places on earth.
    The last few years I have detected a difference.There has been an influx of westerners settling and opening businesses in previously 'unknown' parts such as Buri Ram,these people, mostly guys married to locals came to Isan because of its friendly disposition.Lately I have heard many bitter expats complaining that their paradise has become hell.Not only have the Thais made thir lives a bureaucratic nightmare by changing the immigration status rules on a regular basis but one of the frequent complaints I hear is that being a farang means they are always perceived as being in the wrong.Car and motorbike accidents are often cited.Some even accuse the Thais of deliberately creating an accident in order to extort compensation.I think post #20 sums it up well.Farang/falang is not equal to Thai, therefore farang is a perjorative term and in these cases(see post #20) is racist.
    My call on this.
    The Thais perceive there are too many foreigners diluting their culture - a recipe for racism.

    #22 Posted: 10/8/2009 - 15:23

  • Jon_Mak_Mak

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    "The Thais perceive there are too many foreigners diluting their culture - a recipe for racism."

    Sounds about right.


    Also, I don't think that I mentioned that my wife dosen't really like the term Falang but as she say's they are taught this word from young and just don't know any other word to use. I get the impression she feels sorry for falangs in Thialand being called falang because she also see's it as a bit of a negitive thing.

    Anyway, you won't change Thailand so how about we all paint ourselfs brown and go swimming with our clothes on?! :)

    #23 Posted: 10/8/2009 - 16:45

  • sayadian

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    I wonder what would happen if you took Thai nationality? A long process but one that is possible.Would you still be 'the farang'
    Why is it that I feel offended by this word and yet the Khmer equivalent -'Barang' seems to have no bad connotations?
    I think it's because I am not referred to as 'barang' everywhere I go.It's just a generic whereas in Thailand it is an implied criticism. i.e.you're not Thai.There is nothing wrong in pride in one's country but in thailand the mesage always seems to be ultra-nationalist and many Thais see them selves as superior.
    My wife and I live in the UK most of the year.She is never referred to as 'The Asian' or even 'The Thai'.If she was wouldn't you think this was impolite at the very least?

    #24 Posted: 10/8/2009 - 17:24

  • MADMAC

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    "all I can say is the place you live must be an awful lot different to the rest of Isan/Thailand."

    I live in Mukdahan. Can't speak for the rest of Isaan, but so far here there is no exception I know of to what I stated. Just two weeks ago we had a tragic accident here with an expat who does not live here (but his wife does). He was killed... police found the Thai driver in the wrong.

    Prior to that a friend of mine was on a motorcycle. He had his turn indicator on for a left hand turn. A Thai tried to overtake him on the left and hit him - hard. Police came and the Thai tried to claim there was no directional signal. Policeman went over to my friends bike, turned the ignition key - directional still on. Thai found at fault.

    Prior to that another friend of mine had a Thai rear end him. Police came, Thai found at fault and had to pay restitution for damages.

    Since I have been living here, those are all the cases I have noticed.

    "I wonder what would happen if you took Thai nationality? A long process but one that is possible.Would you still be 'the farang'"

    Yes. We have one person here who has taken Thai nationality (is now a judge in the Thai court system) and is a well respected member of the community (also very wealthy). She is still a falang, and is still sometimes refered to as such.

    "I think it's because I am not referred to as 'barang' everywhere I go.It's just a generic whereas in Thailand it is an implied criticism. i.e.you're not Thai."

    Again, I have to disagree. What counts in this society? Money. Money is EVERYTHING. The Alpha, the Omega. You have it, you're the man. You don't, you're nothing. That's the way it is. Farang means at least some money.

    Again, I would rather be a falang in Thailand than a Thai in Thailand. I live fat and have never suffered from any overt discrimination. It is NOTHING like being a "nigger" in southern United States.

    #25 Posted: 10/8/2009 - 18:20

  • BruceMoon

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    John

    You aint fat, not like me anyway.

    ps. your 'other' inbox must be full again.

    Cheers

    #26 Posted: 10/8/2009 - 18:23

  • bedu

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    Depends on how the word 'farang' is used. Context is everything.

    'Kon dtàang châat' would be more polite and accurate as it actually means foreigner or person from another country and so doesn't just lump us together as one ethnic group.
    It will never be used though, ever. Even the hi-so groups used the word 'farang'.

    However, try saying to a Thai person 'You're from Thailand, so you're a Laotian' and see their reaction. Not a pretty sight.

    Som nam na I say.

    #27 Posted: 3/1/2010 - 21:16

  • MADMAC

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    Sometimes when someone will yell "Falang" at my son, he'll point and yell "Khon Thai" back. I always find it funny.

    I have another friend here who is half Thai, half "falang". He grew up in Thailand and speaks Thai like a Thai. It always baffles them when they try to talk behind his back, and that doesn't work out. One time he went to a store to buy some construction materials, and of course it was assumed he couldn't speak Thai (he doesn't look asian). The two people servicing him started saying to each other, "make sure we overcharge him, then we can pocket the extra." He let them go on for quite a while, pretending he couldn't understand, and then finally said "Now why would you want to cheat me?" Their faces just fell flat.

    #28 Posted: 5/1/2010 - 17:30

  • somsai

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    I don't think khon Thai and falang are equivalent. Khon means person and khon Thai a person from a paticular country. Khon Angit for instance means English person, khon jin, Chinese, etc.

    Falang does have a racial aspect, I'd think chinky or slope, would be the equivalent but both those words aren't used in our society because we frown on racism. I do feel better when I hear "khon falang" for caucasian, or "khon kak" for south asian or middle eastern.

    #29 Posted: 5/1/2010 - 20:58

  • MADMAC

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    Somsai
    If my son responded with "*****" or "slope" they wouldn't understand what he was saying. On the other hand, when he points back and says "Khon Thai" they get the joke.

    I actually don't find "falang" in and of itself a racist term. If an Isaan girl comes home and tells her family she's marrying a falang that's good news. If a white girl back home tells her family she's marrying a nigger, that's not good news. Falang can be good or bad, but since we are assumed to have money - in a place where that's so important - it's generally seen as a positive.

    I have some very good Thai friends here, and all of them agree with me that it's better to be a falang in Thailand than a Thai. We don't have to play by their rules. We get a pass, because it's assumed we don't know any better. So as long as we're friendly, and try not to be obnoxious, we got it good here. I wouldn't trade places with my Thai friends, no way.

    #30 Posted: 5/1/2010 - 22:48

  • bedu

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    MADMAC, bumping into you again, I see.

    Funny as **** your post about your son calling back 'Khon Thai'!

    However, your bit about that we get a pass doesn't wash with me.

    I was asked in Thai to do something the other day and after many attempts, the person did it themselves and thanked me in English, whilst loudly proclaiming, 'This Farang doesn't understand anything'.
    I did understand what they wanted me to do, but wasn't able to explain why I didn't want to do it. I mentioned, just to make them lose face, that I did understand and so went about my business. Quite funny now, to hear a person talk about you and understand what their saying.

    I think as I said the context is everything, your son's case in point is okay, but someone referring to me to someone else is not acceptable, unless it is purely ignorance on their part or casually speaking. To me, the situation wasn't, that was two-faced.

    And better as a Farang here?! Do Thais get double pricing, scams and 1 year hassles, every year to go get a new visa, let alone trips to immigration every 3 months to report? Can I buy land here?! Do I feel welcomed by Thai people, unless I'm buying something, no not often.

    Sounds like you have a nice life up in Isaan, mate. Maybe the people in Bangkok are just too much for me sometimes.

    All the best for now.

    #31 Posted: 6/1/2010 - 00:01

  • MADMAC

    Joined Travelfish
    6th June, 2009
    Posts: 6275
    Total reviews: 10

    Bedu
    It's true we have to deal with double pricing, and wrestle with property ownership... on the other hand, we generally have more earning power (an expat teacher here will earn considerably more than a Thai with similar level of experience), more financial resources at our disposal and are better positioned to say no when people are trying to leverage us for money. Also, where issues of face are concerned, that's far less of an issue for us. Thais kill each other over matters of face at a remarkable rate. Violence directed against "falangs" is actually pretty rare.

    The other aspect that is great for us is in rural Thailand we tend to be superstars everywhere we go. When I go to a village, I will be hit on constantly. Just two days ago my son stopped in a convenience store and the girl behind him in the line paid for his water and ice and gave him her phone number. He has a girlfriend who is brutally attractive - and he has no money. When I go to eat I always get great service, with the waitresses catering to my every whim, and often offering to sleep with me. I am not tall, dark and handsome. I do speak Thai passably, but it's not like I'm extremely proficient there either. If I didn't have a wife, I'd be in real trouble here with so many opportunities with the opposite sex. It's not that I can exploit them (wife definitely doesn't approve of the mia noi concept), but the attention is nice. And it's attention my Thai friends don't get.

    #32 Posted: 6/1/2010 - 08:53

  • somtam2000

    admin
    Click here to learn more about somtam2000
    Joined Travelfish
    21st January, 2004
    Location Indonesia
    Posts: 7050
    Total reviews: 24
    Places visited:
    At least 113

    I think as Bedu says, and others before, context has a lot to do with it.

    I've been called a crazy farang many many times by Thai friends and I'm 110% positive they mean it in an affectionate manner -- but in a different situation, crazy farang (farang ba) can be a lot more derogatory. In English they may say "He's a crazy bugger", but depending again on context determines if it is offensive or not.

    On the other hand back in Oz (where I'm from) there are no shortage of terms for Asian people in general, that are offensive regardless of context.

    I used to work with an Australian guy at the embassy in Bangkok who had a penchant for getting wasted, then in the cab between bars, would wind down the window and yell something along the lines of "Your mother has an unnaturally close relationship with dogs" in Lao (which he spoke fluently) to any street worker he'd see. He always springs to mind when I hear people talking about how rude Thais can be. ;-)

    Ahh the diplomatic corp...

    #33 Posted: 6/1/2010 - 15:26

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