Farang (ฝรั่ง), or as it is often pronounced by Thais – falang, is a word that seems to confuse many people. The confusion mainly stems from either the origin of the word or its meaning.
Meaning of Farang
Farang is most commonly used to describe white Westerners although black people from the US or UK (or other Western countries) may also be referred to as farang or farang dam (black farang). These is some debate on whether or not the term is offensive. In general it is a neutral word intended as nothing more than a description of the person. It can be used as an insult though which is why there is some debate. It depends on the context of how it’s used much like many other descriptors. For instance if someone were to say “She has a farang husband,” then it’s a neutral word communicating the fact that her husband is non-Thai. If someone who you know well were to use the word in a sentence like “Here comes the farang,” it is probably meant as an insult.
Farang also happens to be the word for guava fruit so if you wish to amuse your Thai friends to no end, eat a guava fruit so they can make jokes about farang eating farang (ฝรั่งกินฝรั่ง).
Farang is also used as a descriptor in many foods that were introduced by Europeans. For instance, parsley is known as phak chii farang which would translate into farang cilantro.
Origin of Farang
The origin of the word farang is often debated and you’re likely to see it attributed to many different sources. As far as I know nobody is 100% certain on the exact origin of the word.
One common theory is that farang is based on the word farangset which is the Thai pronunciation of francais (French). Though the French were early traders with the Thai people other Western countries were trading with Thailand long before the French so it seems unlikely that this would be the origin of the word.
Another theory is that the Portuguese who introduced the guava fruit to Thailand lived in an area called Baan Farang (Guava Village) and the name may have become synonymous with the Portuguese traders and then to all foreigners.
The theory which seems to point to the most likely origin of the word is that is derived from the Persian word farangi which means foreigner. Farangi is also used throughout India to describe foreigners and it may have been simply a shortening of the Persian word which led to the word farang in Thai.