I’m a Farang in the land of smiles, Thailand, and white caucasians are given this nickname though you might hear Falang as Thais struggle with the ‘r’s. It’s not meant to be derogatory, though this can depend on the context as the older white haired men hanging around the bars have discovered. Actually the Thais cannot pronounce foreigner, as some English pronunciations are extremely difficult for them, (likewise for us with some of the Thai sounds) so over many years it come out as Farang. For more information on Farang press here
Growing up in the West has meant being conditioned in our way of life, so when we meet a Thai person we expect them to be the same culturally and know our ways, how we think, our rules, about our society, our habits, our history. This is not the case and can lead to frustrations for the Farang causing friction and emotion. Farangs easily lose their temper, we’re confrontational, we raise our voices, emotions heighten and get fired up, hands might wave and this is considered the height of bad manners, a sign of immaturity and rudeness. The reaction from a Thai will be to smile. Smiles have very different meanings and as a Farang, if you’ve made an enemy you won’t know as no Thai will ever confront you. They would rather walk away and keep good Karma. This is probably why nothing gets done here.
Boasting, a regular Western trait, is not viewed positively especially if it’s used to negatively compare Thailand to your own country. Criticism should be avoided. A Thai person will never openly make a negative comment or let you know they are unhappy with you. They will avoid any discussions of contentious subjects as it may lead to conflict, so it’s best to agree with everything or say nothing. Affection is public is frowned upon and the Farang should show some decorum out of respect when in this foreign land.
Thai people of extremely respectful and this appears in all sorts of guises. Feet are the lowest point of the body and therefore the dirtiest. When entering a temple or a Thai home and also some shops, shoes should be removed and feet not raised to unnecessary heights. Never point with your feet. Heads are the seat of the soul, so shouldn’t be touched. Children are the exception. Lowering of your body as you walk in front of someone indicates respect towards the other person. Often students will do this as they walk across the path of their teacher. I also notice it with the cleaning staff in my accommodation.
Monks represent Buddhism and are treated with an enormous amount of respect. Touching a monk by a woman is strictly off limits. Legs should never be crossed in front of a monks.
There is a clear social status in Thai society, the Phu Yai (superior/important person) usually defined by age, wealth, social standing, political power and Phu Noi (little person) who observe obedience and respect of the Phu Yai in return for assistance and favours. Nearly all Thai social interaction is governed by these connections and when Thais first meet they will assess their Phu Yai or Phu Noi status. So if you’re eating out with a Thai and no clear invitation is obvious then the Phu Yai pays. If a Western man is looking for a Thai relationship he would be considered a Phu Yai, a superior person because he must be wealthy to be able to live in Thailand, and would be expected to be generous, a quality expected of important people. So there’s no point in thinking that the Thai’s are just after money and see you as an ATM this is just their culture.
Thais love to have fun and be flattered, who doesn’t? Discretion is admired as maturity. Astrology influences many decisions made by Thais and many will consult an astrologer before making an important one. Ceremonies are open to everyone and there are many. How you dress indicates your status. Thais like to be smart as it shows respect. They believe in ghosts, superstition, black magic and protect themselves with amulets. You’ll often see a neck adorned and weighed down with numerous amulets, more so since King Bhumibol Adulyadej, the world’s longest reigning monarch, passed away after 70 years as head of state, in November 2016. More recently Queen Elizabeth II celebrated her 70 years on the throne.
We have things to learn from their attitude towards ‘sabai’ an adjective used to describe the state of being relaxed. This is very positive and they are very calm about things which in the West can be the cause for contention resulting in people getting judgemental and opinionated. Here it’s live and let live as long as you have a smile, dress smartly and are respectful, you’ll get along just fine. Only make no comments and take no responsibility.
Blog updated from September 2014