Recently on Ajarn, Phil the Webmaster shared his views about being referred to as a 'farang' not only by Thai people in general but also by none other than his wife's 'skin and blister' his Thai sister-in-law.
He stated that he didn't mind a bit and that he is basically more than comfortable with it. Good for you Phil, I never doubted that you had it in you.
Pardon my French
You are probably all well aware as ex-pats in Thailand that the Thai word 'farang' stands not only for foreigner; which derives from 'farangset' meaning someone of French nationality but also a guava fruit.
And why French? Well, according to local legend, French people were the first Europeans to come to Siam as Thailand was known back then.
What about me? 'We are not in the least bit interested!' I hear you shout. Well, be that as it may, to tell you the truth it all depends on the circumstances, by whom, and very much the tone of the delivery. If I am called 'farang' by a young Thai person I instantly point at them and snap 'sadparot! In case you didn't know, 'sadparot' is Thai for pineapple - so the young Thai on seeing the irony in this is usually amused.
I frequently take motorcycle taxis to and from the schools where I work for convenience and I often overhear myself being referred to as 'farang'; not only that but also, 'Hua lan' (bald head), 'Tad pom' (hair cut), or occasionally 'kawaii' (buffalo).
Of course I rarely take offence to any of the above, mainly as they would never suspect that I could possibly understand them. Plus, these boys are 'cut of the same cloth' as myself - north-eastern country boys. I am originally from the East Anglian Fens. I mean it has always been the favoured pastime of country people to rip each others' backs out. Still, it's all more often than not just good-hearted banter.
On the other hand, if I am being referred to as 'farang' in the third person, in a restaurant by a waiter, such as something along the lines of 'what farang want to drink?' with an emphasis on the word 'farang' as though it's offensive and if he is asking one of my daughters, I might have to repress a strong impulse to prevent myself from taking hold of his left ear lobe.
Allow me to explain. My family ran and owned a restaurant in the UK for a number of years and I would sometimes be employed as a waiter. We worked not unusually on the principle that a customer is always someone to be respected. First of all, we never assumed that someone couldn't speak English or that they were incapable of ordering a drink for themselves.
However, if on occasion I found that a customer could speak only in a foreign tongue, or if a person had difficulties in expressing his or herself, then I would find out the relationship between the diners and then perhaps; what would your father like to drink? or what would your second-cousin once removed fancy as a tipple? or a similar interrogative.
Other interesting phrases
On a slightly different note, the phrase 'farang kee nook' can be roughly translated to 'a bird crap foreigner'. More to the point, a farang fruit which comes from a self-sown farang plant that is one that a bird unknowingly sowed while relieving its bladder. In other words, a foreigner that doesn't make the grade; a financially poor foreigner.
Humourous or what? Honestly, I find this an absolute classic and have never failed to titter when I've been christened it.
All of this got me to thinking about some of the more amusing aspects of the Thai language. Moreover, those words and phrases that your Thai language teacher didn't share, so I thought I might enlighten at least some of you as to their virtues.
For example, 'dern kee' (direct translation 'walk crap'). I had twisted my ankle on this particular occasion and was manoeuvring up a flight of steps when an old native lady made that comment to a young boy who was accompanying her.
Following this, 'luk mha' (roundabout translation into English 'baby dog') - a colloquial metaphor for a person who is easily manipulated, as in, 'I can play you like a puppy dog'.
I am sure many of you will know the phrase 'khao niaow, (translation 'sticky rice'). Who among us hasn't enjoyed the combination of succulent Issarn barbecue chicken and kneaded sticky rice? Although, it is never to be confused with 'kee niaow' (translation 'sticky turd); a person who money sticks to - as in cheap and not generous with his friends.
Obscurely, 'hiya!' (translation 'anus of a monitor lizard'), this is what the young Thai males yell in each others' faces when they want to fight. The monitor lizard is the ugliest animal I have ever seen, and when I have witnessed these confrontations, it seems that they are both calling each other it. As in both challengers feel so insulted that it inevitably ends in a scuffle.
I asked a Thai relative about this Hiya thing and he said that it was because in more traditional housing times, the monitor lizards were horrible varmints raiding their house's food stash and no doubt making things very 'sukkaprok' (dirty) while doing so.
My own personal favourite in the land of the gossiping tongues; 'taa mha mai gin mun kong mai kee, (which grammatically translates to 'If the dog hadn't eaten it wouldn't have crapped). The English version is 'There's no smoke without fire' as in there must be some truth in it or people wouldn't be talking.
Thai people are no more than a generation or three from an agrarian society so naturally, they can be blunt and uncouth at times Even so, you have to admire their honesty and directness. On the whole, I am sure they don't mean any ill-feeling towards us 'pale-skinned' ex-pats of European descent by referring to us as 'farang'.