Farang And Paranoia In Thailand

People in Thailand laughing at me

One thing I love about thailand is some of the open mindedness that can be found in daily life. For example, I see a great deal of older and middle aged people reading comics and mangas, I see lady boys on a daily basis – people simply just being themselves, things that you do not always see in other parts of the world due to ridicule and closed mindedness. But in contrast to this, there also seems to be a kind of barrier between some Thai people and the rest of the world. I think that a lot of expats living in Thailand can at some point go through a stage of paranoia regarding racism during their stay there.

Many Thai people can be so friendly, but others seem to find foreigners so amusing, intriguing or even disgusting it seems. As a foreigner in Thailand, it can become quite irritating and also a little personal when people react to you so strangely in daily life. I grew up in a somewhat over-the-top politically correct environment and naturally it has always been very taboo to mention or notice a person’s race…  The people that do have a tendency to notice and react to race in my country, tend to be quite aggressively or spitefully racist, but that isn’t necessarily the case in Thailand. So this hateful association with reaction to race in the west can make being treated differently difficult to accept and deal with at times.

There are so many more expats and tourists in Bangkok these days for people to become acclimatised to that I find it very odd for this ‘singling out’ to be so commonplace in Thailand. But the funny thing is, Bangkok – the most multi-cultural city in Thailand – is the worst culprit of all for this. Either way, the reaction to westerners from some people can be quite childish in some ways and it still surprises me to see some adults sniggering and staring for no particular reason. To me, I just can’t help but perceive this kind of attitude as somewhat xenophobic, even derogatory.. but it simply just isn’t a big deal for some to notice race in Thailand. If this kind of behaviour is beginning to grate on you, all I can say is do not take it personally.

 

The word ‘Farang’ in Thailand

Now, I completely understand that all cultures are different, and it is especially important to understand and accept other cultures when you are living in it yourself, more so. But, it does get to me after a while; being charged a different price simply because you’re not Thai (I still refuse to go a Muay Thai match because of the stupidly steep difference in price between ‘foreigner’ and ‘local’ tickets ;p), even feeling like you’re being laughed at, being talked about and last but not least, being called ‘Farang’. I’m not an easily offended person, and I know most Thai people probably don’t intend to use the word ‘Farang’ in an insulting way… but I can’t help but find it offensive, and I am curious to know if I am the only one who feels this way.

When you’re new and alone in a foreign country, there is a great sense of vulnerability which is not helped when you constantly hear people talking about you and reasserting your ‘differentness’… I hear this word pretty much on a daily basis… however sometimes I hear it with laughter, which sadly makes me feel like some sort of inferior race in Thailand, like an unwelcome outsider. I detest the word Farang and I never use it myself because of this, although I have heard other Westerners use it… but they can often use it in a deprecatory way, whilst belittling other expats or travellers who they deem inferior and inexperienced.

One time I walked into a photo shop to have my passport photo taken, I asked for this in Thai… but I guess my Thai wasn’t as good as I thought because the woman on the counter then mentioned the word ‘farang’ multiple times to her three customers who all proceeded to snigger and stare at me… When some people are just laughing their asses off at you without telling you why or what you said wrong… it’s not particularly amusing, confidence boosting or encouraging to learn the language for that matter. After a while of being singled out in this way, mixed with the simple vulnerable, loneliness of being in a foreign country, your paranoia gets the better of you.  I find myself feeling very defensive about this word, my ears pricking whenever I hear somebody around me say it.

Of course you’re always going to get some bad eggs… in every corner of the world. These actions of just a few people can have really strong effects on you when you’re in a vulnerable situation so the bad experiences can easily make you misconstrue the perfectly innocent and normal behaviour of another person. I absolutely hate being generalised by my race, as a farang rather than as an individual human being, to me it is disrespectful; but I try to remember not to emulate this and generalise people by judging them and associating them with others who may use the word ‘Farang’ harshly. Cultures are different, when living in others you must learn to accept your different opinions, some people may not exactly be so ‘colour blind’ or politcally correct by your standards, but it is the intention of that individual person that is ultimately all that matters.

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