Created By: SKJAM on February 1, 2012 Last Edited By: SKJAM on September 30, 2012
Troped

Exotic Backdrop Setting

The foreign country or unusual culture is just scenery.

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Someone from "our country" goes to "their country", but only has significant interactions with other people from "our country."

Sometimes in fiction, the setting of a story has a significant impact on the shape and themes of the story. Other times, it's just scenery. The exotic location and colorful locals are just there to give a feeling of foreignness, and all the focus characters are from the target audience's culture or others not native to the setting.

For example, a story set in India, but all the important characters are British residents with native Indian people only being seen as servants and other bit parts. Or a story about a Japanese tourist group sightseeing in the United States, and their interactions with each other, with Americans just filling out street scenes.

Often the isolation from the locals is a plot point; the main characters would have never noticed or actively avoided each other back home, but here they're the only people who speak each other's language.

One of the key elements is that the story could be set in any other foreign country or exotic culture without doing violence to the script. The Japanese tourists could be sightseeing in Canada or Mexico instead, and all the writer needs to do is change the place names--it doesn't affect their romances and family struggles one bit.

Often involves Scenery Porn.

Contrast Foreign Correspondent, when someone from "our country" goes to "their country" and interacts with the local people, getting involved in their issues and struggles.

Examples

Film
  • LostInTranslation: Fits the spirit of the trope, if not the letter; while the main characters frequently interact with local Japanese people, none of the natives are major characters, and much of the storyline could be transplanted to any other exotic culture with only which exotic customs are being observed by our protagonist changing.
  • The Jackie Chan film The Medallion is set in Dublin but everyone Chan meets are English or Chinese - there are no Irish characters at all beyond extras or bit parts.
  • Many of the James Bond movies have at least some of this--Bond goes to some exotic location, we see the pretty scenery and maybe a little of the local customs, but all the important people are other foreigners and members of the intelligence community. Live and Let Die is a notable exception, in which the Theme Park Version of New Orleans culture was a large part of the story and relevant to the portrayal of several characters.
  • As it's in the tradition of James Bond, the Bollywood film Ek Tha Tiger has sections set in Iran, Ireland, Turkey and Cuba, but all the plot-relevant characters are Indian or Pakistani.
  • In Inception, the English-speaking protagonists (all of whom are English, American, or Egyptian) meet in Mombassa. We don't see a single named Kenyan person.
  • Casablanca: all the main and supporting characters are from out of town, and the main setting is an American-style nightclub. Native Moroccans are seen only as extras on the outdoor scenes.
  • Half of the film Haywire is set in Dublin but the heroine is American, her companion is British and their contact is apparently French with no substantial Irish characters in sight. In fact the film then subverts things when the 'British agent' turns out to be an Irish hitman.

Literature
  • Dorothy Parker's short story "The Cradle of Civilization" is about two New Yorkers in France, being served drinks by a French waiter and talking about all the American parties they've been to, there.
  • Agatha Christie's Death on the Nile is about a murder that takes place in Egypt, but all the murder suspects and other major charaters are non-Egyptians (and mostly British at that), and the murder is committed for personal reasons that have nothing to do with the setting. The murder could have just as easily taken place on a ship near Britain, and nothing would have changed but a few exotic details of the setting.

Live Action TV
  • The foreign episodes of Inspector Morse. Partly justified in that Morse and Lewis can only question British nationals or people who've committed crimes in the UK.

Music
  • Paul McCartney and Wings recorded Band on the Run in Nigeria, just because EMI owned a studio there and McCartney thought it would be an exotic place to record in. The locals actually protested because they thought McCartney wanted to be a Mighty Whitey stealing their native music for his own profit, but he explained to them that he didn't want to use any of their traditional songs.
    • To some extent true of many albums of the "Live at Budoukan" type; the set list isn't changed to reflect the audience, it's just a way of showing your band toured another country.

Western Animation
  • Each episode of Total Drama World Tour takes place in a different location across the globe (China, Egypt, Australia, etc.) However locals are rarely seen or heard, and even more rarely have an effect on the plot.

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Community Feedback Replies: 23
  • February 1, 2012
    snowy86
    Would LostInTranslation be an example of this?
  • February 1, 2012
    Duncan
    Dorothy Parker's short story "The Cradle of Civilization" is about two New Yorkers in France, being served drinks by a French waiter and talking about all the American parties they've been to, there. (Also an example of Ugly American, if that ever gets launched).
  • February 1, 2012
    RossN
    The Jackie Chan film The Medallion is set in Dublin but everyone Chan meets are English or Chinsese - there are no Irish characters at all beyond extras or bit parts.
  • February 2, 2012
    Rognik
    Lost In Translation uses Japan a little more than just a backdrop to the story. It's foreign enough from Western Civilization that it isolated both of the protagonists. Of course, it does have a lot of showcasing of the local culture.
  • February 2, 2012
    SKJAM
    I've not actually seen Lost In Translation, so would you say it fits the spirit of the trope, if not the absolute letter?

  • February 13, 2012
    SKJAM
    Many of the James Bond movies have at least some of this--Bond goes to some exotic location, we see the pretty scenery and maybe a little of the local customs, but all the important people are other foreigners and members of the intelligence community. Live And Let Die is a notable exception, in which the Theme Park Version of New Orleans culture was a large part of the story and the portrayal of several characters.
  • February 13, 2012
    Rognik
    Well, the two main characters almost definitely would not have started interacting with each other if they were not the only two Americans each other meets in Japan, so in that respect, it plays to this trope. However, both of them interact frequently with natives. It's been a while since I've seen it, but as far as I recall, there were no major Japanese characters.
  • February 14, 2012
    Catbert
    • Agatha Christie's Death On The Nile takes is about a murder that takes place in Egypt, but all the murder suspects and other major charaters are non-Egyptians (and mostly British at that), and the murder is committed for personal reasons that have nothing to do with the setting. The murder could have just as easily taken place on a ship near Britain, and nothing would have changed but a few exotic details of the setting.
  • February 14, 2012
    LeeM
    • Arguably, the foreign episodes of Inspector Morse. Partly justified in that Morse and Lewis can only question British nationals or people who've committed crimes in the UK.
  • March 9, 2012
    SKJAM
    Anyone have any other thoughts on the definition or description?
  • March 10, 2012
    RossN
    • Each episode of Total Drama World Tour takes place in a different location across the globe (China, Egypt, Australia, etc.) However with few exceptions we never see or hear any locals.
  • March 10, 2012
    randomsurfer
    Music: Paul Mc Cartney and Wings recorded Band on the Run in Nigeria, just because EMI owned a studio there and McCartney thought it would be an exotic place to record in. The locals actually protested because they thought McCartney wanted to be a Mighty Whitey stealing their native music for his own profit, but he explained to them that he didn't want to use any of their traditional songs.
  • March 11, 2012
    SKJAM
    Hmm, on that same line, would "Live at the Budoukan" and similar venue-based albums where the musicians just play their regular music in some exotic location count?
  • August 18, 2012
    SKJAM
    If there's no further discussion, would anyone like to add some hats?
  • August 18, 2012
    Valhelm
    In Inception, the English-speaking protagonists (all of whom are English, American, or Egyptian) meet in Mombassa. We don't see a single named Kenyan person.

    In the Indiana Jones films, characters native to the setting are usually mooks, friendly side characters, background extras, villains, or completely unseen. Only one major character in the first film is ethnically Egyptian, despite the setting.

  • August 19, 2012
    jate88
    Compare to Scenery Porn?
  • August 19, 2012
    SKJAM
    Villains and sidekicks are plot-relevant characters, so most of the Indiana Jones movies won't count--maybe Crystal Skull.
  • August 19, 2012
    animeg3282
  • August 19, 2012
    Waterlily
    I'ven never seen the old Marlene Dietrich movie Shanghai Express but, from everything I've heard, it fits this trope. A lot of old movies probably do.

    ETA: I looked it up further and I'm not sure it fits here anymore. The main characters are white but there seem to be Chinese characters who are important to the plot too.
  • August 19, 2012
    SKJAM
    Indeed, launching Lead You Can Relate To was what inspired me to post this YKJTTW.
  • August 21, 2012
    TonyG
    Casablanca: all the main and supporting characters are from out of town, and the main setting is an American-style nightclub. Native Moroccans are seen only as extras on the outdoor scenes.
  • September 19, 2012
    SKJAM
    Examples sorted. Any last minute thoughts or examples?
  • September 23, 2012
    RossN
    Half of the film Haywire is set in Dublin but the heroine is American, her companion is British and their contact is apparently French with no substantial Irish characters in sight. [[spoilers: In fact the film then subverts things when the 'British agent' turns out to an Irish hitman.]]
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