Being a Farang - Good or Bad ?
Farang ? If there is one Thai word that Americans and Europeans know before setting foot in Thailand it is 'farang' (in Bangkok it is often mispronounced as "falang"). The word is a common generic term to refer to any foreigner of the Caucasian origin and sometimes African-Americans as well, though the latter are also called "farang dum" meaning "black farang". Coincidentally, "farang" is also the guava fruit in Thai.
It is hard to say whether the term is offensive or neutral. A lot depends on the situation as well as the tone and context it was used in. For example, it is quite common for street vendors, bar girls or taxi drivers to use the word without any insult meant. At the same time, more educated Thais are not supposed to do so, and the usage of "farang" in this case turns into rather a derogatory term. An exception is when your Thai friend who you consider quite close uses the word in a friendly manner, with a bit of good humor. It is also not uncommon to hear the word from foreigners themselves, as it firmly enters one's vocabulary after some time spent in Thailand. "I Love Farang!" is a common sign on taxis, whose drivers can speak English.
Notably, people of Asian origin are not called "farang" – instead, Thais would say Korea – khon gao lee or Laos – khon lao , and so on. Whereas, American or English, Spanish or French – are not exactly differentiated and called by a generalized "farang". This is the main reason why the word may seem offensive to those foreigners, who understand the nuances of the Thai language. But just for the equation's sake, aren't people from Southeast Asia, like Indonesians, Malays, Vietnamese, Korean, Burmese, and even Thais often seen as somewhat the same or very similar to an average westerner? Can you tell how one is distinctive from another? Well, for an Asian eye, it is the case with Caucasians – as simple as that!
If you think, however, that after spending quite some time in the Kingdom, probably a few years, and even learning the local language you will stop being referred to as "farang", shed your illusions. No matter how much you blend and adopt the local lifestyle, you will always remain an outsider, a foreigner, someone who is just so different. You may have a lot of Thai friends, dress, eat and hang out "the Thai way", even marry a Thai lady and settle down in the country permanently, but ultimately, you will not stop being an alien, one who came from a different world, whose appearance, body language and even odor is different!
So, don't take it too close to your heart. Better arm yourself with a good share of humor and accept the fact that you are a guest here. After all, guests in Thailand are always met with generous hospitality and at the end of the day, being a farang is not that bad!
A Thai Perspective
'Farangs', by virtue of the fact that they have traveled to Thailand, are often though by many Thais to be rich. Whilst most average foreigners are certainly wealthier than an average Thai (minimum salaries can be as little as 100 Baht a day for laborers or shop workers) the concept that all are rich is just not true. Many backpackers come to Thailand on a shoe string budget and some expats choose Thailand because of its low cost of living and the fact that they simply could not afford a similar lifestyle elsewhere.
As a consequence, there is commonly a dual pricing system in Thailand. One price for a local Thai, and one for a foreigner. In truth, there is often three tiers, one for a Thai, one for a tourist and another for a foreign expat who speaks some Thai.
Admission charges also reflect dual pricing, particularly when visiting national parks, museums and palaces.
Whatever your circumstances, the Thais are a happy-go-lucky race and are welcoming to the many 'farangs' that flock to the land of smiles every year.
Farang in Thailand – Local Perspective
Multi-Faced Life in Bangkok
Working in Thailand – Teaching English and Other Options
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