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Farang or Falang

Updated on July 3, 2011

So is it 'Falang' or 'Farang'? Nine times out of ten if you see it written down it will be spelt with an 'r' and pronounced by any new and sometimes long time visitors to Thailand as 'Farang'. If you hear a Thai using the word then ninety nine times out of a hundred they will use the 'l' and say 'Falang'. There are a number of Westerners who will argue that 'Farang' is the correct pronunciation and it is the Thai's who have got it wrong. They say that Thai's have difficulty with their 'r's' and their 'l's'. Strange. If most Thai's use a Thai word and say it as 'Falang' and most 'Falang' say it as 'Farang' who has got it right? I believe it is the Thai.

Falang - the Fruit

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Origins of the word

There is no definite agreement on the origins of the word.

In Laos, which borders much of Thailand the word for a French citizen is 'Falang'. This is derived from the word for France which is 'Falangsay'. Many Northern Thai people also speak Laos as a secondary or primary language.

In Cambodia, which also shares a huge length of border the Khmer word for a foreigner is 'Barang'. Many Thais also speak Khmer.

Some suggest the word arrived with Persian traders who used the word 'Farangi' to refer to foreigners.

When Buddhism arrived in Thailand it was accompanied by the Sanskrit text and in Sanskrit the word for foreigner was 'Firangi', a word also used to refer to the British in some parts of India.

Maan Falang

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The spelling and pronunciation really matter little as long as the speaker is comfortable with the word and the person who is listening can understand.

To be sure most Thai's and Falang who live closely with Thai's will say 'Falang'.

Most Falang who live with and mix mainly with Falang will use the word 'Farang'.

Purists may argue that 'Farang' is Royal Thai usage and that 'Falang' is the word of the common people. The word of the common people then would be more applicable to most.

Generally speaking Falang refers to white skinned people regardless of their origins and is not used for people of other colours. A person with black skin may sometimes be known as 'Falang dam' which simply means black Falang.

What Thai think of Falang

The word Falang is not an insult unless you perceive it to be. Any word in any language can be spat out and used in a derogatory manner or placed into a particular context. In general you may not usually be referred to as a Falang in your presence but may often be in your absence. If your name is known it is more likely to be used to refer to you.

People who are offended by being referred to as a Falang are too sensitive after all that is exactly what they are...a Foreigner.

I once asked my Thai girlfriend why it was that the Falang used the word ''Farang' and yet the Thai people always said Falang.

I thought her answer explained it perfectly as was her pronunciation:

"Because 'Farang' is the 'Falang' way to say 'Falang'.

Another time I was in conversation with a Thai man. He was using the word 'Farang'. When I queried him about it he said that he was using it for my benefit so I could understand and immediately reverted to 'Falang'.


The Guava was first brought to Thailand by the Portuguese some hundreds of years and is known by the Thais as 'Falang', probably because of its white flesh. It is rarely eaten ripe. It is usually consumed unripe in slices which is dipped into a mix of chilli and sugar, sometimes with a little salt added.

The potato too. White fleshed on the inside. This is referred to as 'Maan Falang'.

What Do You Use?

It really doesn't matter.  


Submit a Comment

  • Peter Dickinson profile image

    Peter Dickinson 5 years ago from South East Asia

    Thank You livingabroad.

  • livingabroad profile image

    livingabroad 5 years ago from Wales, UK

    Would you say the 'falang' version is just a lazy or slang way of pronouncing it on behalf of Thai people?

    This is interesting when applied to my name, Kieron. Now many Thai's have no problem in pronouncing the 'r' in 'ron', especially when I break it down slowly into two syllables 'kie' and 'ron'. I'm guessing you know the translation?! I never hear the 'kielon' version as you might expect. Nevertheless I have given myself a shorter less offensive nickname, simply Teacher 'K'.

    Enjoyable read. Up, interesting and linked to my page about Thai culture.

  • Peter Dickinson profile image

    Peter Dickinson 8 years ago from South East Asia

    Thanks travel-man. Don't eat too much.

  • travel_man1971 profile image

    Ireno Alcala 8 years ago from Bicol, Philippines

    You're right, there are plenty of guavas or falang (err farang) in Portugal when our ship delivered goods way back in 2002. You can call it bayabas in Filipino language or guayaba. Mexicans brought this fruit here in the Philippines. You can cook the flesh of the ripe ones in coconut milk with brown sugar. You can also make a guava jelly if you have time. Thanks for this hub, Sir Peter D. I just eaten plenty of guavas last week (first week of February).

  • tonymac04 profile image

    Tony McGregor 8 years ago from South Africa

    Even in Liverpool! I oncde heard a man speaking there and really didn't understand a word he was saying! He was Liverpudlian, of course.

    An interesting insight into a culture I know little of. Thanks for sharing.

    Love and peace


  • Peter Dickinson profile image

    Peter Dickinson 8 years ago from South East Asia

    Hello hello - No the Thai's can definitely pronounce their r's when they want to. Maybe they don't want to. In the UK if a foreigner were to listen to locals talking in Sheffield, Newcastle or Glasgow they would think they were listening to foreigners every time. Locals never seen to 'talk proper' unless they have to.

  • Peter Dickinson profile image

    Peter Dickinson 8 years ago from South East Asia

    quicksand - "Sawadikap" is what I use and mainly hear. Apart from falang and on two occassions only have I heard it end in "krap" rare I remember it. Thank you. It is an odd linguistic world we live in.

  • Peter Dickinson profile image

    Peter Dickinson 8 years ago from South East Asia

    seemorebangkok - thanks for the input. I am glad you are a falang and not a farang. As to me it is mainly Peeeturrrr with a definite roll on the 'r' or Huneee.

  • Hello, hello, profile image

    Hello, hello, 8 years ago from London, UK

    Has it something to do with these people not being able to pronounce a 'r' like the Japanese and Chinese? Thank for a look into other cultures.

  • quicksand profile image

    quicksand 8 years ago

    Well on your first few visits you tend to notice the inability of most Thais when it comes to pronouncing the hissing consonants. As a result of this you tend to think that most Thai words are borrowed from "Inglit!" (English)

    Other examples are "polit" (police) and "fit." (fish)

    However, I have never heard a Thai say "Sawatdee Klap!" They always manage the "r" pretty well here. At times they do away with it altogether and let out a rather abrupt but pleasant "Sawadikap!"

  • seemorebangkok profile image

    seemorebangkok 8 years ago from Bangkok, Thailand

    I've always used 'falang' too and never once said "farang". Technically it's supposed to be 'farang' from what I've been told and read in newspapers and magazines.

    I looked up the word farang in the Thai-English dictionary and there's 2 definitions. 1. foreigner 2. guava (as you've mentioned already).

    Falang is not mentioned in a Thai-English dictionary at all.

    You mentioned this already, but I tend to agree Thais say 'falang' because most may have a problem pronouncing the 'r' letter. I have a friend working in the same company from named Robert and most of our Thai coworkers call him Khun Lobert.

    But here's the kicker a few Thais who've studied in France pronounce his name Robert the French way, "Rowbeer".

    And for some reason I have another coworker who's name is Peter and they can pronounce the 'r' without a hitch, except they emphasis the last syllables.

    Even I pronounce the phrase "Arai na khrup" and "Alai na krup" and no body even blinks an eye.

    Either ways I guess it doesn't matter too, just as long as everybody understands each other.

    How about you? Do Thais have a problem pronouncing the 'r' in your name?