|  July 30, 2013

Is farang an f word?

I never thought so, considering I call my father a farang with no offence intended _ nor taken. In fact, in this magazine we have often published the word farang and I have never hesitated (before) over its use. 

But more and more I am reading and hearing about the outrage people are feeling at being called a farang. And I get it. After all, there is no English language equivalent which is in any way acceptable in today’s lexicon. 

The pejorative words we Thais use to describe our neighbours, especially the poorer ones, are by no means acceptable. So, why would the word farang be any less unacceptable, however innocent its origins? Having said that, I still don’t see why the word should be seen as a racist epithet just because the English language does not have a comfortable equivalent to it.  (By the way, the word is not a bastardisation of the word foreign, nor derived from the word for French people, Farangses. Farang is, in fact, a term brought by Persians to Thailand in the 17th century or earlier, a term which was used during the crusades to describe the Franks, and which was adopted by many people across the Asian subcontinent from Turkey through to Afghanistan. As you see, the word therefore bears no relevance historically nor socially to Thailand and was only adopted as a generic word to refer to those with white skin.) 

In my youth, and to be honest, even today, my friends and I used the word farang ubiquitously, never in any way intending it as a negative word. In fact, I am rather fond of it. However, my fondness for the phonetics of a word bears no relevance if it is taken as an offence by those to which I am referring. No one wants to be called a racist (well, I should hope not anyway). Yet, we all make snap decisions and references to groups of people whether it is based on their fashion sense, colouring, age group or gender. It is how we reign in these judgments, reevaluate and adjust our perspectives that distinguish our interactions with others.

As a society, we Thais have come a long way in the past few decades as we have become homogenised with the rest of the world. Our sabai sabai laissez-faire attitude is being replaced by professionalism and ambition; our finely tuned layering of class has been blended by the rise of the middle class and more accessible education; for women in particular, our meek and mild faƇade is being removed as we demand our equal place in society. These are good things. 

But no one can call Thai people politically correct. In fact, we don’t even have a word for it. I am sure that you all have cute or cringe-worthy anecdotes about how politically incorrect Thai people can be. But does political incorrectness equate racism? I think not. The west has had decades of media blasts, rights movements and educational reform to raise awareness on this issue. Thailand has not. So, perhaps it’s best to temper your expectations. 

We are not going to get Thai people to stop using the f word any time soon; we are nowhere near aware enough of the constantly shifting word standards in political correctness to be effecting that change. Imagine what we would replace the word farang with? Khon tang prathet (person from foreign land)? Khon tawan tok (western person)? Considering the Thai love of nicknames _ people here often call their children Chicken, Rat, Fat and all sorts of other unflattering monikers _ it is hard to imagine us not having a nickname for a foreigner. 

But change has to start somewhere, and if our foreign visitors and friends do not like to be called farang, then I am sure we will slowly adapt to their preferences. In the meanwhile, bear with us, try to understand that in most cases the word farang is said with, if not fondness and innocence, then at worst ignorance, and maybe start conversations with your Thai friends on this subject to raise awareness about it. 

I too will learn to be more circumspect with its use and hope that my farang friends won’t think too ill of me if I slip up now and then. 

Citylife this month:

The estrogen is oozing out of Citylife this month, with our cast of all-women feature writers. Anna Brooks has delved into the hot topic of ASEAN’s upcoming AEC in 2015, Rebecca Iszatt takes a look at the huge wave of Chinese tourists lapping at Chiang Mai’s commercial shores, Jennifer Jerome interviews a child progeny, 15-year-old Yada Pruksachatkun, who writes a frightening (for we older folks anyway) piece on how teens study for exams today, I show off about my recent visit to the south and Hilary Cadigan takes you on a stroll through a new 3D art museum in Chiang Mai. 

Any (male) writers out there looking to pitch a story, please feel free to do so. (Was that politically incorrect? Whoops!)