Farang Mishaps

December 16, 2002

Being a foreigner in Thailand, you are bound to make countless cultural blunders no matter how hard you try not to. Sometimes simply being a farang is a mishap in the first place. Sure, Thais are used to seeing ‘strange’ looking people from other countries in the cities but once you get out into the middle of nowhere, you are likely to make some babies start screaming at high volume for hours just at the mere sight of you. Others will simply stare while some might even think you are a ghost.

Over the years yours truly has had plenty of time to make quite a few cultural mistakes. Some Thais reading this might be offended at just how much I have messed it up at times, so please let me apologise in advance. Let’s start off with the rice bag story. Once upon a time I found a pile of used rice bags at a market. They had interesting graphics on them and were a steal at five baht each, so I bought a few. Later I decided to use one as a laundry bag. To me, a bag is a bag. To the161202k1.jpg woman I brought my laundry to, I was perhaps the rudest person she had ever met. “You should not put your dirty laundry in a rice bag! It is disrespectful!” she declared in an annoyed and aggressive tone that is quite uncommon here. I said I was sorry but wasn’t really sure what I’d done wrong until I did some thinking.

In Thailand it is rude to point your feet at Buddha images, other people, books and food. You would never step over someone’s meal if it were on the ground, nor would you point your feet at shopping bag full of groceries. But I’d gone ahead and put my dirty clothes in a rice bag, rice being the most respected food of all!

But other farang mishaps aren’t usually as big as this one and can involve accidentally falling into squat toilets, mistaking jars of hot sauce for tomato sauce, or mistakenly bumping into someone’s head with your arm or bag, or being foolish enough to attempt to sing karaoke in Thai to the aural detriment of all present. Being a161202k2.jpg farang also often involves trying to squeeze a gigantic backpack or suitcase onto an overcrowded bus to the amusement of most Thais who travel simply with one small plastic bag of food and another equally small bag of clothes. It also includes drinking too much ‘lao khao’ (rice alcohol) and finding yourself doing the ‘ramwong’ (Thai dance) in the middle of the street.

Despite all of my efforts to do the right thing, I have forgotten to ‘wai’ monks and even bumped into them. I’ve accidentally stepped on the door jam of temples and certainly pointed my feet in the wrong direction a million times. I have hung Buddha images at lower positions on my walls then other pictures and hung socks and bras up high on a washing line. I have been late in standing up at the movie theatre when the National Anthem is played and once was the only one in an entire train station who didn’t stop and stand at full attention while it was broadcast. br> I have also been known to lose my cool161202k3.jpg and yell, perhaps the worst thing of all, and never managed not to stare when I see grandmothers (considered no longer to be sexual objects by Thai society) when they sometimes walk around topless. Perhaps the funniest mishaps of all are the ones that occur because of my incorrect use of the Thai language. I have told tuk tuk drivers, “Please just wait here for one week,” when I meant to say “one minute”, accidentally ordered many a bizarre food dish, unintentionally argued at the market for a higher price and ended up with two pitchers of beer when I meant to order one glass.

This article isn’t intended to show all the ways I have failed in Thailand. Rather it serves to remind me of all that I have learned while living here and all the laughs I have had along the way, most importantly at myself. It also serves as a thank you to the Thais who, despite my blunders and disasters, have greeted most mistakes with warm smiles, kind understanding, a laugh or sometimes a wide-eyed stare. Perhaps having ‘farangs’ in Thailand is more of a challenge for the Thais than it is for the farangs blundering their way through the experience!

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