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German migrants in Thailand: exploring privilege and precarity in Pattaya

Date: January 19, 2021

By: Kwanchanok Jaisuekun

Thailand is not only a popular holiday place but also a desirable residential destination for Western migrants. Being citizens of more economically advanced countries in the global North enables Western migrants to experience an increasing in status as well as a sense of privilege. However, in my research project on German migrants in Pattaya, Thailand, I found that German residents live a privileged, yet also precarious life.

My research participants choose to reside in Pattaya, a well-known established international tourist destination, because of the exceptional lifestyle the city offers. Living in a tourist enclave extends the privilege and feelings created while on holiday for a longer time period. Similar to British migrants in Costa del Sol, a famous touristic area in Spain (O’Reilly, 2009), German migrants in Pattaya live among other tourists, share tourist spaces, and spend their leisure time doing tourist activities. They also enjoy the amenities typical of an established tourist resort and the services provided by local inhabitants. While Western migrants who decide to live in Thailand’s rural area are exposed to real Thai life and lose control in their daily matters (Maher and Lafferty, 2014), migrants in Pattaya enjoy tourist facilities that help them live a more independent life, maintain a Western lifestyle and live their lives like a tourist. The cosmopolitan setting in Pattaya makes it easier for German migrants to adjust to their new lives. It offers them opportunities to live close to their co-ethnics and other expats. Almost all of my participants spend much of their time socializing mostly with German speakers and actively participating in the German communities.

“I have seen many things in Thailand but Pattaya is different. Pattaya has a social structure like this Meeting Center. I think if I had to live in Isaan[1], I would go bananas. There is no farang[2] infrastructure. Other farang in Isaan might live 10 kilometers away and might be alcoholic (laugh). I want to do some activities rather than only drinking. Right now, I participate in a group talk (at the Meeting Center), run my own writing class and drink beers in the evening (Frank[3], 66)”.

This beach city also gives its foreign residents a sense of emancipation from social norms at home, particularly those regarding gender and sexuality, such as visit go-go bars, openly buy sex, date much younger women and so on. Due to the strong Euro compared to the local currency, German participants can enjoy commodities and activities they cannot afford at home. With their dwindling incomes from home, migrants can live a decent or even a luxury lifestyle in Pattaya. Similar to Western male foreigners in the Northeastern part of Thailand (Maher & Lafferty, 2014), many male German migrants convert this relative privilege into access to romantic relationships with Thai women.

Although German migrants enjoy their tourist privileges and life in ‘Little Germany’, there is a price for this privilege. German residents have a very limited degree of social integration and relationships with locals are superficial and hierarchical grounded on monetary exchanges. Similar to other Western migrants in Thailand (Vielhaber et al, 2014; Howard, 2009), German correspondents do not have Thai friends. According to them, the Thai people they know are normally waiters or waitresses, apartment receptionists, or security guards. While Western migrants who live with a Thai partner outside tourist enclaves have a chance to integrate into Thai society through their Thai partners and family (Chuenglertsiri & Kanchanchitra, 2016; Thompson et al, 2016), German migrants in Pattaya have separated social lives from their Thai partners and lack social integration into the host society. Their lives in Thailand are insecure due to the lack of legal recognition of their resident status. They are treated as a ‘forever guest’ by the Thai immigration and citizenship law. According to the law, it is difficult for foreigners to gain permanent resident status or citizenship. This means migrants need to apply for one of several kinds of visa, generally tourist entry or a renewable non-immigrants visa annually (Howard, 2009; Maher & Lafferty, 2014). Furthermore, foreigners are prohibited from owning property such as houses and land. It is a common practice among Thai-Western couples to purchase and own property in the Thai partner’s name, which leads to the vulnerability of foreigners living in Thailand (Maher & Lafferty, 2014; Howard, 2009; Cohen, 2003). No matter how long my German participants have been in Thailand, many of them still feel like a guest who is never truly accepted as part of Thai society.

“Our neighbors are friendly and nice to me. They usually ask my girlfriend where I am. They call me farang but I don’t mind. I like it (laugh). It’s just that I feel like I am only a guest and always will be, but I came here voluntarily. If there is something I do not like and can’t stand, there is a solution. Go home. We have to accept that this is not our country (Andreas, 63)”.

References

Cohen, E. (2003). Transnational marriage in Thailand: The dynamics of extreme Heterogamy. In. Baure and Mckercher (eds.). Sex and Tourism: journeys of romance, Love, and Lust. New York: The Haworth Hospitality Press.

Chuenglertsiri, P. & Kanchanachitra, M. (2016). ‘Thai way’ or ‘My Way’ A qualitative Study of integration and Well-being among Long-Term European Migrants in Thailand. Population and Society, Institute for population and Social Research, Mahidol University (pp.71-89).

Howard, R.W. (2009). The Migration of Westerners to Thailand: An Unusual Flow from   Developed to Developing World. International Migration, 47(2).193-225

Maher, K.H, & Lafferty, M. (2014) White Migrant masculinities in Thailand and the Paradoxes of  Western Privillege. Social&Cultural Geography, 15(4), 427-448, doi:10.1080/14649365.2014.893703

O’Reilly, K. (2009). Host and Guests, Guests and Hosts : British residential tourism in the Costa del Sol. In P. Obrador Pons, P. Travlou and M. Crang (Eds.), Cultures of Mass Tourism: Doing the Mediterranean in the age of banal mobilities. Farnham: Ashgate.

Thompson, E., Kitiarsa, P., and Smutkupt, S. (2016). From sex tourist to son-in-law | Emergent Masculinities and transient subjectivities of farang men in Thailand. Current Anthropology, 57(1), 53-71.

Vielhaber, C., Husa, K., Jöstl, J., Veress, K., & Wieser, B. (2014). Paradise found? Experiences of Farang retirement migrants in Hua Hin and Cha – am, Thailand.  In K.Husa, A.Trupp &   H.Wohlschlägl (Eds.), Southeast Asian Mobility Transitions: Issues and Trends in Migration and Tourism       (pp.168-195). Vienna: Copydruck KG


[1] Isaan is the Northeastern region of Thailand. It is often considered as the poorest and most disadvantaged part of Thailand

[2] In Thailand, the term farang popularly refers to white people or Westerners. Although ‘farang’ is basically a neutral word, it can sometimes be used as an insult

[3] All the names are pseydonyms

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