Explaining Foreigners to Lao People (Part 2)

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An open-air Laos temple with meditation mats laid out
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Ready to learn more about why foreigners (or falang as they’re known in Laos) act the weird way they do? Here are 5 more reasons (plus a BONUS!) falang just don’t get Lao-style.

Missed the first 5? You can catch up with Explaining Foreigners to Lao People Part 1.

A falang enjoying his coffee and magazine all alone

6. Falang like to be alone

Falang are solitary creatures. They often live all alone, without anyone else. And they like it that way. Pretty much the opposite of Lao-style, right?

Falang are trained to be independent from a young age. You see, when they get old enough – usually 18 – they set off from their home to live on their own.

This isn’t a punishment, it’s a rite of passage. As a child-falang becomes an adult-falang, they feel the need to “make it on their own”.

It’s important to understand that falang who live alone, go for coffee alone, go to a restaurant alone, or travel alone aren’t lonely or starved for company.

In fact, they probably enjoy doing things by themselves.

So be a good friend, and don’t call every hour or make plans every day with a falang. And try not to be visibly appalled when a falang tells you he or she likes being alone.

Also, don’t text falang and ask “are you alone?” That’s just plain creepy.

anger-inducing Lao traffic

7. Falang don’t get why you’re not angry

When they first arrive in Laos, falang talk about things they find stupid, wrong, or just plain annoying.

They’ll wonder why you have to wait 45 minutes for a meal at a restaurant with only 2 patrons, why paperwork needs to be signed by 5 people when only 1 person would suffice, and why people break traffic rules all over the place but nobody honks their horn.

You see, things like these make falang very angry. Wasting their time makes them angry, unnecessary rules make them angry, and people breaking rules without consequence makes them angry.

It doesn’t take much to rile up a testy falang.

Contrast that to the Lao attitude: bo pen yang. No biggie. Chill out. Relax. This too shall pass.

Falang are amazed that Lao people aren’t up in arms writing nasty letters and making heated phone calls whenever a motorbike takes to the sidewalk to avoid an illegally parked delivery van. “Rise up!” they say. “Make things change!” “Force things to get better!”

They just don’t get it.

In Laos you don’t lose your shit if things don’t go the way you want them to.

Falang were raised to believe that speaking out makes things better for everyone.

In Laos, it just makes things more difficult (and it’s downright embarrassing).

When your falang friends lose their cool, remind them that their life isn’t ruined, their future isn’t in shambles, and that the world is indeed still turning.

Give them time, and they’ll start to appreciate bo pen yang.

A cute Lao dog sitting in a puddle

8. Falang really like animals

You will notice that falang are particularly sensitive to the many street dogs roaming Vientiane. They may want to pat the dogs, feed the dogs, or even “adopt” them. Falang will notice cats too (although there aren’t as many cats, due to the amount of street dogs).

Before you explain to your falang friend that nobody gives a rat’s ass about street dogs, you need to know that falang love animals.

Falang want all cute and fuzzy animals to be treated with respect, properly fed, and dodged around when they’re (stupidly) napping in the middle of the road.

To falang, it’s inconceivable that dirty, stupid dogs aren’t welcomed into neighbouring homes with pillows to lie on and food from the family’s table. “Ill-mannered dogs can be trained!” they will insist. “Mean dogs are just mean because they aren’t loved enough!”

Falang will figure out that street dogs aren’t friends when they get bitten and have to go for a painful series of rabies shots. If not, you may have to explain to them that sure, there are people who keep dogs as pets. But they don’t keep dogs for friendship – they’re for protecting the property. They’re not “nice” doggies. They’re supposed to be mean.

Falang belting out some English karaoke

9. Falang don’t know every English song at karaoke

Warning: when you put on your favourite English karaoke song and pass the mic to the closest falang it’s probably not going to go over well.

The falang will stare at you, at the mic, at the screen, and outright refuse to sing.

Shocking!

That’s because not all falang know your favourite English song. Seriously. The most popular English songs in Laos just didn’t manage to make a big splash in English-speaking countries.

Maybe it’s disappointing, but when it comes to English karaoke songs, you should always let the falang choose.

It might also surprise you that falang will come with you to karaoke, but insist that they don’t want to sing. That’s right, they don’t want to sing. Not all falang think singing is a great time.

This is because karaoke in foreign countries isn’t as popular as Laos. Karaoke is kind of like bowling in Laos. Lots of people try it but few do it regularly. Fewer still would claim to be any good at it. You dig?

For karaoke to be successful with a falang, make your falang friend feel like they’re in a friendly environment, a judgement-free zone. Also ply him or her with plenty of Beer Lao. This will lower inhibitions and help raise the bravery of your falang friend.

Be patient – falang who adamantly refuse at the beginning of the night might be ready to belt out some tunes after an hour or two.

Lead by example – it helps if you can sing an English song or two with the falang to raise the comfort level.

Once your falang friend gets used to karaoke, they’ll become a regular.

10. Falang talk about sex…a lot

Get a few dozen Beer Lao into a falang, and they’ll probably bring up their favourite subject – sex. Falang talk about sex a LOT. And once you’ve shared enough beers, you qualify as a close friend. And that means talking about sex.

Why do falang seem obsessed by sex? Well, think about the environment falang live in.

In foreign countries (particularly North America) everything people see, hear, and do is all about getting sex, having sex, or having better sex (if you’re already having sex).

It’s permeating and all-encompassing. Music, advertising, TV, and movies make sex seem like it’s the only worthwhile pursuit in the world. Drinking alcohol is sexy, and eating food is sexy. The punchline of a falang joke usually has something to do with sex.

You see where this is going? It’s embedded in the falang psyche. It’s not their fault.

Falang figure that if they want to talk about, so do you. Unfortunately for them, they don’t realize that nobody really cares about the last one night stand they had, or how long it’s been since they’ve been laid.

You’ll find that both guy and girl falang talk about sex, but especially guy falang.

Unbeknownst to them, you really just couldn’t care less.

If falang want to talk about sex, simply humour them. Then change the subject to something more interesting the first chance you get.

Then again, this is a chance for you to find out more about the inner thoughts of falang when it comes to their favourite subject.

A completely silent Buddha statue. Much like falang during a movie.

BONUS!

11. Falang are COMPLETELY silent during a movie

Going to the movies is a popular pastime for falang in Laos, especially since English movies come out sooner in Asia than in North America. Falang love to see movies before their friends and brag how they saw it first.

When falang go to the movies and the lights dim, you’ll see them change. They become absolutely silent, and glue their eyes to the screen.

For the entire movie.

They have absolutely no desire to answer their phone, text their friends, or catch up on Netflix. They don’t talk to anyone. They don’t look around. They are 100% focused on the movie.

You see, falang go to a movie for one reason only – to watch the movie.

And they quickly lose their shit when you don’t do the same.

Angry falang will shush you and tell you to be quiet. They’ll grumble and complain and give you the stink eye.

They don’t understand that in Laos a movie is like a backdrop for a good time. It’s like live music at a restaurant – you don’t have to listen or pay attention, it can go on in the background while you enjoy your meal.

But for falang the movie is the ONLY reason to go to a movie.

If you’re at a movie with falang don’t bother trying to start a conversation while the movie’s playing. You might as well try to talk to a brick wall. Just wait until the movie’s over – then they won’t be able to stop complaining about how rude everyone else was, talking and texting and watching videos on their phones.

 

I could go on pretty much forever about things falang don’t get about Laos. But for now, I’ll leave it here. I hope that now you understand why falang often get into an embarrassing situation in Laos, and how you can help them get out of it.

Yes, that’s right. It’s up to you, now.

On behalf of falang everywhere in Laos, we are grateful for your help and we’re trying our best. Be patient with us. Bo pen yang.

Missed the first 5 reasons falang are totally awkward in Laos? Catch up with Explaining Foreigners to Lao People (Part 1)

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