Attitudes Towards Foreigners in Thailand

Published: 14th February 2011
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As we have already seen, the Thais have no post colonial hang-ups about Westerners, simply because they were never colonized and regard Westerners as their equals.

The Thai word for European is farang, and you will hear the name used wherever you go in Thailand. Parents will point you out to their children, and often children will come up close to get a better look. Some may touch you for luck.

Farangs are frequently a source of great amusement to the Thais, since they behave in such strange ways. The Thais watch the visitors intently, waiting for them to commit some faux pas or do something odd. However, in many of the international tourist spots foreigners are so numerous that they lose their curiosity value.

The Thais are particularly attracted to foreigners who behave politely and try to follow Thai practice. On one occasion I was sipping a beer with a friend at a roadside cafe in. a holiday resort, when a Thai came up and greeted us. He said he wanted to meet us because we were dressed politely (suparp). On further investigation we found he was impressed because we were both wearing shirts and slacks in a place where everyone else was in T-shirts and shorts.

Thais are less impressed by foreigners who "go native" and dress as Thai peasants. On the whole, they prefer us as we are.

The Thais can be disarmingly direct, asking personal questions even when they hardly know you. They will ask where you come from, whether you are enjoying your stay, whether you are married and, if not, when you are planning to tie the knot. They may even ask how much you earn. You are not expected to answer properly or exhaustively, for this is merely friendly small talk.

The Thais admire people with pale skins, but you will find some who are afraid of people with dark skins, which they call "kerk." For this reason, darker-skinned foreigners have to work harder to earn their respect and friendship.

Are there any signs that the Thais' love affair with foreigners may be coming to an end? Mass tourism may benefit the economy, but it has its drawbacks. Some people in Thailand feel they are being overwhelmed by the creation of international ghettoes along the coast; they also fear that the behavior of some foreign tourists and residents may have a detrimental influence on Thai youth. One can only hope that their traditional tolerance of foreigners does not turn into resentment.

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