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When I first came to Thailand I would often cringe at constantly being called farang (ฝรั่ง).  It wasn't that I was uncomfortable with the common perception that it's a racist or derogatory term directed towards any non-Asian foreigner here.  I just wanted my wife and her friends/family to understand there were differences between farangs just as all Asians are not alike.  I tried to explain that calling all white foreigners this term was akin to saying that a Thai person was the same as a Japanese or Vietnamese because "you all look alike."  It also seemed like I was losing a bit of my national identity and I thought about designing a shirt that said, "I'm NOT farang.  I'm American."

But I've come to accept that whenever I'm around Thai people here I'll be referred to as farang (particularly when I'm the only one in sight).  Indeed, I always know when they're talking about me even if I don't understand that much of the language yet (similar to the cartoon listening to his master speak: "Blah, blah, blah, farang, blah, blah, blah, farang...").

I've also come to understand a bit more about the word and it's useage, partly through the Wikipedia article and more recently through the following excellent post on the Doodee's Thailand blog, reprinted here in full:

A Most Misunderstood Word
In the last entry on Doodee’s Thailand I told you a little of how I perceive the manner in which Thais view me and my fellow foreigners.  Today I’d like to continue discussing the subject of Thai and Westerner inter-racial perceptions by telling you a little about what I consider to be the most common misunderstanding of Thai people by foreigners.  This misunderstanding centres on the origin, precise meaning, and usage in the Thai language of the word “Farang”.

Farang is the Thai word for foreigner, principally a foreigner who is a westerner of Caucasian appearance (However, in recent years I note that the word is starting to become used for all westerners, regardless of skin colouring).  Farang is a polite word.  Its politeness is confirmed for me by its listing and definition in the Oxford English Dictionary. The Oxford English Dictionary defines Farang as “
Noun, (among Thais) a European or other foreigner”.  Farang does not have a derogatory or demeaning connotation.

It is my understanding that Farang is a contraction of the Thai word “Farangset” which means French.  Apparently the French were among the first Europeans that the Thai people encountered.

It is my belief that many westerners misunderstand the word Farang for two reasons.  The first of these reasons is simply the popularly held misunderstanding that Farang is the Thai equivalent of “Honky”.  It’s not.

The second of these reasons has its roots in the Thai language’s use of pronouns.  Please allow me to explain.

The Thai Language is very economical with its use of pronouns.  If they’re not required, they’re not used.  Pronouns can be considered to be not required whenever the subject is obvious.  As examples of this practice, the Thai word for “you” is never included in the question, “Where have you been?” (in Thai, “bai nie ma?”), nor is the Thai word for “I” used in this question’s response, “I’ve been shopping” (in Thai, “bai shopping ma”).

And in accordance with the Thai language’s economical use of pronouns, descriptive nouns are often used in place of pronouns.  This gives amazing clarity to the meanings of sentences.  It’s much more sensible than the way that we speak in English.

The following examples might help you to understand the way that descriptive nouns are often used in place of pronouns in Thai.  These examples show that instead of saying “He said” or “She said” (in Thai “Cow daiy bok”), Thais will often define their meaning more precisely by saying:-

“The lady said” (pooying daiy bok)
“The man said” (poochai daiy bok)
“The child said” (dek daiy bok),

“The policeman said” (tamruat daiy bok)
“The doctor said” (mor daiy bok)
“The janitor said” (jow-nahtee daiy bok)

and most controversially for westerners with a limited understanding of the Thai language, its usage, and its construction,
“The westerner said” (farang daiy bok)

Descriptive nouns are also often used instead of “they” when making generalisations.  But when talking about one person in a group a defining adjective or more often the person’s name will be used in place of the personal pronoun “he” or “she”.

So, when a Thai person says, “farang daiy bok” he or she is not using a derogatory term, but is employing such word usage for its clarity and because it is the natural way for a Thai person to speak.  There is no racist undertone or subtext in such word usage.

Over a period of many years I’ve seen several westerners in Thailand, and been made aware of many more of them, who’ve become irate as a result of the Thai use of the word Farang and their misunderstanding of its intended meaning.  It is my understanding that they feel that the word Farang is being used in a racist or derisive fashion.  As explained above, that is almost certainly not the case.

Whenever I witness westerners becoming irate as a result of the Thai use of the word Farang I am always reminded of the wise words of a friend of mine.  Sadly this friend died many years ago.  He was German.  He spoke English well.  He spoke Thai well.  And he spoke Isaan very well.  He once said to me; “If you understand the language, you’ll understand the culture.  Language and culture are like brother and sister.  And if you understand a foreign language and a foreign culture it will help you to understand your own language and culture better”.

How right he was.  How wise he was.

It’s been my pleasure today to offer my former friend’s wise words, and my limited understanding of the Thai language, to you for your consideration and contemplation.  I hope that you’ve enjoyed it.

posted by Doodee at Sunday, March 04, 2007
And here's a follow-up post that appeared a few days later:
Farang, Farangset, Ferengi
I have received a pleasingly large amount of feedback from readers concerning the entry on Doodee’s Thailand, A Most Misunderstood Word.  The main issue of discussion seems to have been my statement, “It is my understanding that Farang is a contraction of the Thai word ‘Farangset’ which means French.”  My source for this information was the Linguaphone Thai Course (Course Handbook) which I purchased many years ago.

In response to readers’ interest in the derivation of the Thai word “Farang” I’ve undertaken a little more research.  As a result of this research I’ve found a Wikipedia entry which examines the derivation of the word Farang in some detail.  I would recommend all students of the Thai language with an interest in this matter to visit it at Wikipedia Farang.

One reader left a comment on A Most Misunderstood Word to inform me that Farang is derived from the same linguistic root as is the name of the fictional Star Trek race, the Ferengi.  To my astonishment this is a possibility.  For those with an interest in such matters I would refer you to the Etymology section of the Wikipedia entry Wikipedia Ferengi.  When read in conjunction with the Wikipedia Farang entry it can be seen that both Farang and Ferengi could have a common root in Persian or possibly Arabic.  How about that!

I’m most impressed by the extensive knowledge that you folks, the readers of Doodee’s Thailand, possess, and I thank you for sharing it with me.

posted by Doodee at Wednesday, March 07, 2007
For a different view, here's a quote from an article on Orient Expat:
Gaijin, Farang, Gweilo - Confused?
...Perhaps in the West, we are a little too PC and tread on eggshells over words that are often used as humourous and friendly ways to address foreigners.  On the other hand, there are words that are clearly racist and insulting.

The above are a selection of well known words for Westerners in Japan, China, Thailand and Laos.  I would like to know of more so that I can learn.

How do you feel about being referred to in this way?  From my point of view, when I spend long periods in rural Thailand, I grow very weary of locals who see me every day refer to me as 'The Farang', even though they know my name.  Worse still, they will often refer to me as such when talking to my partner as though I wasn't even there.  To me, it is insulting and I am deeply offended by it in the long term.  I feel it is no better in this case than being called n##ger, long nose, roundeyes, whitey, spick, polak, kraut etc etc etc.

However, if you don't spend much time in a country I guess it can be humourous and fun to have a bunch of schoolkids shout 'Farang Farang' at you in the most innocent way possible and to be seen as a curiosity and in that case, what's the problem?... but when does it get too much for you, when your name effectively becomes 'Farang'?

"Body Farang, Heart Thai"

1 ความคิดเห็น:

ไม่ระบุชื่อ กล่าวว่า...

What about farang ki nok?