In this video, we will answer the question “What does “ฝรั่ง (fáràng)” mean? Am I considered a “ฝรั่ง (fáràng)”?” Thai people don’t just use “ฝรั่ง (fáràng)” to describe any foreigner. In this video, you will learn what “ฝรั่ง (fáràng)” actually means and if you can use it to describe yourself. You’ll also learn how to describe someone based on their physical features, and how to describe their ethnicity precisely when you have the information.
Q: What does farang (ฝรั่ง) mean? Am I considered a farang (ฝรั่ง)?
A: If you come to Thailand, you must have heard the word ““ฝรั่ง [fáràng].” While you may think it means “foreigner,” it does not. We have the words “คนต่างชาติ [kon dtàang châat]” and “ชาวต่างชาติ [chaao dtàang châat],” which truly mean “foreigner.” Either word can be used to refer to any person that’s not Thai. Both “คน [kon]” and “ชาว” [chaao] mean “person,” ต่าง [dtàang] means “different,” and ชาติ [châat] means “nation” or “country.” So the literal meaning of both words is “a person (from a) different country.”
Sometimes, you may hear them in a plural form with the word “พวก” [pûak] placed in the front, “พวกชาวต่างชาติ [pûak chaao dtàang châat],” “พวกคนต่างชาติ [pûak kon dtàang châat]” or “พวกต่างชาติ [pûak dtàang châat],” all of which mean “foreigners” as opposed to “foreigner.” While these generic terms may seem like the best words to use to refer to foreigners, they’re considered somewhat formal. In real life, you’re more likely to come across different terms which are more specific.
Thai people refer to foreigners using many different words depending on their physical appearance. We usually use “ฝรั่ง [fáràng]” to refer to any Westerner who looks white, no matter where they’re from. They can be American, European, Australian, Russian, South African or any other national, as long as they have fair skin and other physical characteristics of a white person, they’re likely to be referred to as “ฝรั่ง [fáràng].” An Asian person, no matter how pale their skin is, is never referred to as “ฝรั่ง [fáràng].” Black people are also never referred to as “ฝรั่ง [fáràng],” even if they’re from a Western country.
When talking about a fruit, “ฝรั่ง [fáràng]” refers “guava.” It has no relation, whatsoever to white people and is unlikely to be the origin of the word. There is a theory that the word “ฝรั่ง [fáràng]” is derived from the Arabian word “Farangi,” and another theory says it’s derived from the French word “Français.” No one really knows.
For a black person, regardless of what nationality they are, if their skin is black or brown and they have common physical features of a black person, they will generally be referred to as “คนดำ [kon dam],” which literally means “black person.” Another word that might be used is “คนผิวดำ [kon pǐw dam],” which means “a black-skinned person.” Sometimes, we use the word “คนผิวสี [kon pǐw sǐi],” which means “a colored person,” but it’s rarer.
The same is true for people of Eastern and Southeastern Asian descents. It doesn’t matter where they’re from, as long as they look Asian, they will be referred to as “คนเอเชีย [kon Asia].” Chinese, Korean, Japanese, Thai, Vietnamese, Singaporean and everyone from East Asia or South East Asia will fall into this category.
If we feel confident someone is from a certain country, maybe from the way they’re dressed or by overhearing the language they speak, we may be more specific and call them “คน [kon],” followed by the name of the country we think they’re from. For example, if we want to refer to someone we see at the market whom we hear speak Japanese, we may refer to that person as “คนญี่ปุ่น [kon yîi pùn],” which means “a Japanese person.” Instead of being vake and saying “คนเอเชีย [kon Asia].”
A Western person with an East or Southeast Asian background, such as Chinese-American, Thai-British, Vietnamese-French or anyone from a Western country that looks Asian may also be called “คนเอเชีย [kon Asia].” But if information about their ethnicity is known, that person can be described more precisely. For example, a Chinese-American would be described or referred to as “คนอเมริกันเชื้อสายจีน [kon American cheúa sǎai jiin].” “เชื้อสาย [cheúa sǎai]” means descent.
If you’re half-Asian, half-white and you look more white than Asian though, you may be referred to as “ฝรั่ง [fáràng].” And if you’re half-Asian half-black but look more black than Asian, you may also be referred to as “คนดำ [kon dam].” So it all depends on your physical appearance.
But if you look truly mixed, as in it’s hard to tell what you are because you don’t look any more like one race than the other, but you truly look 50-50, you may be referred to as “[ลูกครึ่ง] luuk krêung,” which means “a mixed person,” or simply “คนต่างชาติ [kon dtàang châat]” (a foreigner).
You may find it interesting and a bit funny but not all Asian people are referred to as “คนเอเชีย [kon Asia].” Someone from the Middle East (such as Turkey, Iraq, Israel, Egypt and Saudi Arabia etc.) and South Asia (such as India, Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Bangladesh etc.) will usually be referred to as “แขก [kàek].” When we say “คนเอเชีย [kon Asia],”we won’t think about people from these countries but rather from East or South East Asia.
None of the following words used to describe someone’s ethnicity, whether it is “ฝรั่ง [fáràng],” “คนดำ [kon dam],” “คนเอเชีย [kon Asia].” or แขก “[kàek]” are regarded as rude or offensive. It’s just the way Thai people describe or refer to someone they see and don’t know. It’s not rude to use these words to describe someone to someone else, but it should not be used to address someone directly.
If someone doesn’t know you, they should use the pronoun “คุณ [khun]” when they talk to you. A person in a service position may use more polite terms and address you as “คุณผู้ชาย [khun pûu chaai]” which means “gentleman” or “sir,” or “คุณผู้หญิง [khun pûu yǐng]” which means “lady” or “madam.”
In an informal setting, if Thai people don’t know the name of the person they talk to, they tend to use family terms to address them to sound friendly. For example, a customer might call a young server “น้อง [náwng],” which means “little brother” or “little sister.” This is very common in Thai culture. In fact, almost every family term can be used to address a stranger. To learn more, feel free to check out our video on “Thai Personal Pronouns and Family Terms.”
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