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Farang, insult or not?

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#1 khunsanuk


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Posted 28 January 2007 - 01:31

There seems to be a lot of questions, and some controversy, when it comes to the word Thais use to describe westerners: 'farang'.

A common theory as to its origin is the one that derives it from the word 'farangset' (french). The French were one of the first westerners to establish relationships with the Thai kingdom, and were refered to by the Thais as 'khon farangset' (french person). Since the Thai could not distinguish other westerners from the French, they started using the same name for all westerners. Over time this word changed into 'farang'.

However, more recent studies have shown this to be untrue. The most widely accepted theory now is that the word is derived from the word 'Frank', and spread from Europe through the Middle East to Asia. The Thais most likely borrowed the word 'farang' from the Persian and Indian traders in the 17th century. The Persian word was 'farangg', and was probably used to refer to early Portuguese traders and subsequently to all Europeans (ie., non-Muslims).

Regardless of its origin, people seem to be confused as to whether it is a derogatory term, like 'nigger', 'gook' or 'whitey', or that is merely a colloquial way of saying foreigner. I would tend to think it is the latter, although it can certainly be used in an insulting manner.

My wife, for instance, never refers to me as 'farang', she uses 'khon tang chart' (foreign person). She does however use 'farang' when talking about westerners she is not close to, but always addresses (and refers to) my friends with their names, usually prefixed with 'Khun'.

To me this indicates that 'farang' is used only when speaking about people you are not close to, like one waiter telling another to bring the food to 'that farang'. I don't think the waiter is insulting in this example, just using an easy characteristic of the customer to identify him to his colleague.

As mentioned, the term 'farang' can easily be used in an insulting manner though. Someone calling me, or refering to me as, 'ay farang' would most certainly piss me off. It would be the 'ay' part (which is a very rude way of addressing a male person) rather than the 'farang' part that I would take offense to. Just as I would take offense to someone calling me 'ay Sanuk'.
The manner in which it is pronounced could also turn it into an insult, or a way to show contempt. But then again, the word 'westerner' or 'foreigner' pronounced in the same way would produce the same result.

I do think it is bad though, if you are refered to as 'farang' (or 'boksida', which is the Isaan/Lao equivalent) by the family of your wife/girlfriend. Again it is not so much the use of the word, but rather the underlying meaning. As mentioned earlier, I think that the term 'farang' is not used with people you are close to, and whose name you know. Therefore, if your wife's/girlfriend's family does refer to you by using 'farang', it means they have most likely not accepted you into the family, and you are still considered an outsider.
For instance, whenever I am upcountry with my wife's family, they either address me/refer to me as Khun Sanuk, Phii Sanuk or Luung Sanuk (depending on their age). Never farang.

So, is it derogatory? I honestly don't know, but I would doubt it. I think it could be used as such, but I don't think it is usually meant to be derogatory. I suppose it all comes down to the context and how it is said.

#2 limbo


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Posted 28 January 2007 - 01:38

Agree on your thoughts here. My wife's family always calls me by my name but they do refer to other Westerners as farangs.

One friend of mine uses 'Westerners' whenever she refers to "Farangs".

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#3 Flashermac



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Posted 28 January 2007 - 03:38

Does she also use the pronoun "man" for them?


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#4 cavanami


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Posted 28 January 2007 - 04:03

I agree that the use of the word, "farang" is not normally used is a negative manner.

For me and the Thai folks I associate with, Farang is a very useful word when they are trying to mention a certain foreigner and using the word farang makes it easy for me to understand who they might be describing.

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#5 limbo


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Posted 28 January 2007 - 05:37


Does she also use the pronoun "man" for them?


Man Westerner?

Only Man Farang when she's hungry.

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#6 Dali



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Posted 28 January 2007 - 08:33

Agree that its not derogatory by definition, but could be depending on the context its used in.
same same, but different

#7 Pescator



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Posted 01 February 2007 - 18:19

I`d say it`s no more no less derogatory than the word Asian used in english.
If they didn`t have the word Farang, which word would they use to refer specifically to a caucasian foreigner?

Flashermac, with certain people I hear them use the term "man" when referring to people who don`t understand thai. Hubbies included :(

#8 cardinalblue



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Posted 02 February 2007 - 23:47

It can be less than complimentary under certain contexts.

See how the media or other public venues use the word "farang" in their communications...

So, would it be on the same level as using the word "chinaman" for all people from Taiwan, Hong Kong, mainland China, Singapore, etc?

Both are old fashion terms. Maybe a need for a change since the social fabric of the era is now different....


#9 preahko



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Posted 06 February 2007 - 16:18

context is everything.  when I'm walking in the park (as I was yesterday) and I hear a mother tell her misbehaving child "careful or the farang will take you away," it is NO different than in days gone by (the present maybe for some people??) in the US and other places when white parents told their children "the nigger (boogey man is the somewhat more ambiguous term, but let's not kid ourselves, it means the same thing) is gonna come get you..."

Farang is also derogatory/belittling when it's used to refer to you in the third person when Thais are discussing you in your company.  Again, given the way Thais view themselves as the most superior people on the planet, it is NO different in this context than white people referring to a black person present as "the colored fellow," or to an Asian as "the chinaman"...

if those terms sound archaic, it's because (most of us, I like to think) in the West have gotten beyond such attitudes, while Thais, several hundred years behind us in ways of thinking in many respects, still unapologetically cling to such ideas.


#10 jitagawn



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Posted 06 February 2007 - 21:01

I agree 100% with your analysis regarding the uage of the term "farang". Using it in the third person when I am standing there annoys the fuck out of me...but I just turn on the Thai smile and use it to my advantage.

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