As a Thai woman, it's safe to say that I'm quite familiar with the presence of foreigners in my country. Known locally as "farangs," these expatriates come from all over the world, and each one tends to bring their own unique flavor to the cultural melting pot that is Thailand. With that in mind, I thought it would be interesting to share some surprising facts about farangs that most Thais might not even realize.
Firstly, it should be noted that not all farangs are created equal. For example, there are plenty of European expats in Thailand, but even within that demographic, there are distinct cultural differences. Someone from Spain or Italy might behave quite differently than someone from Germany or England, despite all technically being "farangs." This is just the beginning of a wide range of diversity among Thailand's expat population.
Furthermore, contrary to some Thai expectations, not all farangs are wealthy. In fact, many foreigners find themselves drawn to Thailand specifically because it's a relatively affordable place to live. While many farangs may still occupy a higher socio-economic status than the average Thai citizen, it's not necessarily true that all of them are living it up like kings and queens in the Land of Smiles.
Farangs Make Up Only 3% of Thailand's Population
Despite what some may think, farangs – the term used to describe foreigners in Thailand – actually make up a rather small portion of the country's population. According to the Thai government's Department of Employment, as of 2019, there were approximately 2.8 million foreigners living in the country out of a population of nearly 70 million, which comes out to only about 3%.
It's worth noting, however, that this number doesn't include the millions of tourists who flock to Thailand every year. In 2019 alone, more than 39 million people visited the country – many of them likely farangs. So while they may not make up a huge portion of the permanent population, farangs are still a ubiquitous presence in Thailand's tourism industry.
Majority of Farangs in Thailand are Retirees or English Teachers
Of the 2.8 million foreigners living in Thailand, the vast majority of them fall into one of two categories: retirees or English teachers. Retirees – particularly those from Western countries – often flock to Thailand for its warm weather, low cost of living, and proximity to other countries in Southeast Asia. English teachers, on the other hand, are often young college graduates looking for an adventure and a chance to immerse themselves in a new culture.
Of course, there are farangs from all walks of life living in Thailand, but these two groups are certainly the most prominent. It's worth noting that many farangs living in Thailand are not there on a permanent basis – they may come for a few months or a few years before returning to their home country.
"Farang" is Not Considered an Offensive Term
If you're a farang in Thailand, chances are you'll hear the word "farang" a lot. But don't worry – the term is not considered offensive. In fact, many farangs living in Thailand embrace the term as a badge of honor.
The word "farang" likely comes from the Persian word "farangi," which means "European." Over time, the word has evolved to refer to any foreigner, regardless of their nationality. While it may have been used as a derogatory term in the past, it's mostly used today as a neutral descriptor.
Thai People May Assume All Farangs Are Rich
It's not uncommon for Thai people to assume that all farangs are wealthy. This is likely due in part to the fact that many farangs living in Thailand are retirees who have saved up enough money to live comfortably in their later years. Additionally, Western countries are often seen as being more prosperous and developed than Thailand, which can lead Thai people to assume that all farangs must be well-off.
Of course, this assumption isn't always accurate – there are certainly farangs living in Thailand who struggle financially, just as there are Thais who are extremely wealthy. Nonetheless, it's something that many farangs have to contend with when living in Thailand.
Farangs Often Struggle with the Language Barrier
One of the biggest challenges of living in Thailand as a farang is the language barrier. Thai is a tonal language with a completely different alphabet than English, which can make it extremely difficult for non-native speakers to become proficient.
Many farangs living in Thailand opt to learn at least some basic phrases in Thai in order to make their daily lives easier. However, even those who become relatively fluent in the language often struggle with understanding the nuances of Thai culture, which can be just as important as learning the language itself.
Many Farangs Have Adopted Thai Culture as Their Own
Despite the challenges of living in Thailand as a farang, many foreigners have fallen in love with the country and its culture. Some even choose to adopt certain Thai customs as their own.
For example, it's not uncommon for farangs to bow in the traditional Thai greeting, known as a "wai," instead of shaking hands as they would in their home country. Additionally, many farangs have come to appreciate the importance of Buddhism in Thai culture and have even begun to practice it themselves.
Of course, not all farangs who live in Thailand adopt the local customs and traditions, but it's certainly something that many find fulfilling and rewarding.
Farangs Are Known for Their Love of Spicy Food
If you're a farang living in Thailand, chances are you've been asked whether you can handle spicy food. This is because Thai cuisine is known for its liberal use of chili peppers, which can be a shock to the system for those unaccustomed to it.
Despite this, many farangs have developed a taste for spicy Thai food over time. In fact, some even become so enamored with it that they seek out the spiciest dishes they can find.
While farangs may only make up a small portion of Thailand's population, they have left an indelible mark on the country's culture and tourism industry. From retirees seeking warm weather to young English teachers looking for adventure, there are countless reasons why farangs choose to make Thailand their home.
Of course, living in a foreign country comes with its challenges, from the language barrier to cultural differences. Nonetheless, many farangs have come to embrace Thai culture as their own, adopting local customs and traditions and even developing a taste for spicy Thai food.
Whether you're a farang who has lived in Thailand for years or someone who's never set foot in the country, there's no denying the impact that these foreign residents have had on this beautiful and fascinating nation.