“Farang”, the word used by Thai people when referring to white skinned western foreigners is the subject of many a debate, which includes the origin of ‘farang’, many visitors to Thailand, upon being mentioned or summoned with the word ‘Farang’ are not sure if this is a polite or hostile term, and hence they refer to it as the ‘farang word’.
Why do Thai people call us farang.
The fact is that the word ‘farang’ is a very general term and is used by Thai people in reference to you or in conversation with you, I know it seems strange that you could be conversing with a Thai and He or She is calling you ‘white foreigner’ which is what farang translates to, but mainly they use ‘farang’ in place of your name. The reason the Thais call us farang is simply because that is what we are to them, I don’t believe we have any comparison in the western world, we would not generally call someone foreigner to get their attention or while conversing with them, we may, if we know their nationality, refer to them by that to get their attention but that is all.
There are so many different nationalities visiting and holidaying in Thailand you could not expect a Thai to know where each one is from so ‘farang’ covers all white westerners. They could say ‘you’ but this only covers English speaking people, they could say ‘khun’ which in Thai means ‘you’ but you might not understand any Thai, and unless they already have your attention they could be talking to absolutely anybody, so ‘farang’ it is.
In what context am I being called farang.
When a Thai calls you or makes reference to you with the word ‘farang’ it is usually in a simple matter of fact polite manner. ‘Farang’ though, is a word like any other word, it can be spoken graciously, thankfully, appreciatively, disrespectfully, mockingly, mischievously or joyously, it all depends on the circumstances, and we usually know what our circumstances are. You may hear ‘farang’ spoken many a time as you are passing, sometimes followed by giggles or hushed conversation, but usually nothing disrespectful has been said, they may be referring to the silly hat you are wearing, your size, the colour of your skin, usually it is just a trait of being a farang which has brought the attention. There are some exceptions such as ‘farang kee nok’ this translates to ‘farang bird shit’ or ‘bird shit farang’, used either jokingly or in reference to unsavory or unlikable farangs. ‘Farang keeniow’ is the name given to tight or miserly farangs.
Who is not a farang.
No we are not all called by the name ‘farang’. Thai people generally only refer to white westerners as ‘farangs’, black people of African descent are commonly referred to as ‘farang dam’, meaning black farang. Japanese are called ‘yippon’, there are many names for various races and nationalities in the Thai language. The general word for all foreigners is ‘khon tahng prateht’.
Will I always be called ‘farang’ in Thailand.
Yes you will always be called ‘farang’ in Thailand but when you have been here long enough to make friends or marry, the people who know you by name will usually call you by name, you may still be referred to as ‘farang’ during conversation amongst your Thai friends, especially if you are the only farang they know. The exceptions are, they may struggle to pronounce your name, they be making you be the brunt of their joke, or they are just comfortable calling you farang. Another example is hotel staff and most businesses and services which deal with farangs on a daily basis, they will predominantly speak English and refer to you as ‘Sir’, ‘Madam’, or get your attention with a courteous ‘hello’ or excuse me.
What if I don’t like being called a farang.
Many people do object to being called a farang but hey! we are in Thailand and there is not really a great deal you can do about it, there are many do’s and don’ts which you should try to abide by and keeping your cool is one of them.
Other uses of the farang word.
- Farang is also Thai for the guava fruit.
- Farang also means ‘chewing gum’
- Farang is a potato, more precisely ‘man farang’