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Fish out of Water
What is that smell? Huey:
Clean air. My guess is we'll get used to it eventually. Riley:
I hope so, this place stinks.
A character is placed in a situation completely unfamiliar to them. Humor and/or tension is created as the character adapts — or doesn't
Naturally, Fish Out of Water have a danger of becoming awkward the longer a show runs.
If the character quickly adapts to the new conditions and finds it better than back home, it's Like a Fish Takes to Water
. If however, they decide to change things to how they used to be back home they are a Blithe Spirit
Contrast Outside-Context Villain
There are many examples of fictional works using this as their main premise:
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Anime and Manga
- One of the main characters in Planetes is Ai Tanabe, a Japanese girl who achieves her childhood dream of working in space. Working in a zero-gravity environment is new to her, and many of the earlier episodes are focused on her learning to adapt to life on board the station. The culture of an international space craft is just as foreign to her as the weightlessness of space.
- Twentyfifth Baam grew up in a cave with his only contact to the human world being a girl that taught him everything he knew. He then stumbles into a place full of magic, people, conflict and rules (one which states that Baam's presence are against the law).
- Full Metal Panic!!'s Sousuke Sagara, despite being ethnically Japanese, was raised in war-torn Afghanistan. His mission places him (and his two American squadmates) in Tokyo, where Sousuke is forced to adapt to life as a normal high school student. The spin-off series Full Metal Panic? Fumoffu focuses on the comedy of Sousuke's attempt to adapt to the cultural differences of life in Japan.
- For the early part of the story, Kaname (Sousuke's love interest) writes him off as an insane military and mecha Otaku. Then their entire class gets abducted by terrorists; at the point where Sousuke finds and commandeers a mecha, Kaname finally realizes he was telling the truth the whole time and gets an Internal Monologue telling herself "You're in his world now."
- In Bizenghast, Edrear and Edaniel go to by a present for Dinah. Since Edrear has only ever left the Mausoleum for work, he knows nothing about human society. Because of this, Edaniel managed to get him in a skirt as part of his human disguise. Edrear also asked for directions to a store that was directly behind him(although this may be more to do with the fact that he is illiterate) and apparently put a quarter in a mailbox to see if a gumball came out.
- Shinryaku! Ika Musume features a literal
fish squid out of water as the title character.
- Ikoku Meiro no Croisée, which is about young Japanese girl who tries to adjust to her new life as a housekeeper in late 19th-century France.
- Kamisama Kiss is about a Ordinary High-School Student stumbling into the world of Shinto gods, demons and magic.
- In Suisei no Gargantia, a young soldier of a human galactic civilization gets stranded on a planet where the environment and culture are completely different from what he's used to.
- In Axis Powers Hetalia, most of the characters experience this to some degree when traveling to other countries. It's most noticeable with Japan when he spends time with Italy and Germany after they form an alliance.
- Bleach: The Deicide arc reveals Chizuru has the ability to sense spirits, hollows and Soul Reapers when she regains consciousness while Karakura Town is trapped in Soul Society. Because no-one knew, she's had absolutely no information given her about the supernatural world and, since the gang are currently fleeing Aizen, she's been tossed into the deep end in the worst possible way. She has absolutely no idea what is going on and demands to be brought up to speed as soon as possible. She's well aware she may not understand everything she's told, but feels she should be told it anyway. No-one disagrees. Like the other spiritually aware school children, she's strong enough to survive Aizen's presence without dying.
- In A Certain Magical Index, mages exist secretly throughout the world, having their own culture and way of doing things. Most obviously, it's only relatively recently that technology has caught up (and surpassed, in areas) magic, so even young mages have absolutely no idea how to use even the most user-friendly machines. Why would they use a cell phone instead of a telepathy spell? Why would they use a computer instead of an enchanted book? So on and so forth. Since most of the series takes place in the most technologically advanced city in the world, they're even more out of their depth than normal.
- In Seirei no Moribito, the young Prince Chagum has to flee the palace under the protection of Action Girl Balsa. Going from a life of luxury to being on the run is a bit of a harsh transition for him, though he adapts well later on.
- Double Happiness. Being Chinese-American, Tom didn't fit in back in Boston. Then he moves in with relatives in San Francisco's Chinatown, and he doesn't fit in with them either.
- In the Franco-Belgian Comic Philemon, the titular character is frequently thrown into "Le Monde des Lettres", a magical land running on Alice in Wonderland logic. Many of the stories revolve around Philemon bumbling around lost, not knowing the strange rules of the world and getting caught up in the consequences.
- The original premise of the long-running newspaper comic strip Blondie was that Dagwood was a trust fund baby disowned by his family (for marrying Blondie) and forced to live a salaryman's life. While the premise never explicitly changed, it has eroded significantly over the years and is lost on most modern readers.
- This is the basic premise of The Boondocks comic strip, as it revolves around two black kids from Chicago being forced to move to an affluent, predominately-white suburb.
- The four in With Strings Attached spend the entire book being outsiders in a number of different places. This creates problems most of the time but ends up working to their advantage at the end, because the skahs never do understand them and hence drastically underestimate them. Conversely, the four end up understanding the skahs well enough to use crowds of them for their own purposes.
- The Hunter also talks about how he first arrived on his planet and how he barely survived that first year. Twenty years later, he's quite well adapted.
- Luso in The Tainted Grimoire. He has however been shown slowly adjusting as he learns about the world he is in.
- In Ragnarok when L sends Mello and Matt to spy on Light. Since they are in the middle of Tokyo, Light notices the blonde kid spying on him almost immediately.
- In Tom VS Muggle Technology, Lord Voldemort is "attacked" by a microwave and baffled by a cellphone.
- In Fantasy Of Utter Ridiculousness, this happens to Patchouli Knowledge in the story's Alternate Ending. Commentary from the author on the story's page at Mediaminer revealed that if she spent too much time in Jersey City, her lifestyle would slowly degenerate until it more closely resembled that of her Life of Maid persona.
- Having once been a human, Legendary Genesis's Eileen has a very hard time adjusting to being a Scyther. Between being unable to swim, not knowing how to fly, chewing her food improperly, and struggling to sit down, she easily becomes frustrated with her new shape. Not only this, but she has a hard time understanding how the Pokémon world works. Her fear of speaking up and asking questions only makes things more difficult for her.
- This trope is the main premise of Swappedstuck; the troll Vriska finds herself in the body of a human, and tries to live like one. It doesn't work well.
The horror only increases. It seems to be compounding itself infinitely all the time you spend exploring this terrifying place.
What kind of sick person keeps an open fire in their hive, ready and waiting to burn people to death????????
Film — Animated
- Happens literally in Chicken Little, with Fish-Out-Of-Water being one of the main characters. He has a sealed fish bowl full of water, just around his head. He doesn't even speak English, apparently, since everything he says is a series of bubbling noises.
- MK in Epic, naturally Leafmen customs are all very strange to her.
- The Little Mermaid played the trope pretty literally; Ariel was so miseducated about the human world that she did wacky things like combing her hair with a dinner fork.
Film — Live Action
- The Blind Side: Michael, when he first arrives at his new private religious school, and when the Tuohys first invite him into their home.
- Crocodile Dundee
- The Beverly Hillbillies and Green Acres featured premises which were the exact inverse of one another. The former was about country folks living in the city while the latter was about city folks living in the country.
- Being There. Chance - who lived his whole life inside a townhouse and only knew of the outside world through television - adapts so quickly, and appears to be someone who knows what he's doing, that in the novella no one realizes he was this in the first place.
- In the Loop: All of the British characters in the US, but especially the hapless Simon Foster.
- The Man Who Fell to Earth deals with this a lot.
- The plot of Jean de Florette centers around a former tax collector from the city inheriting his mother's property in the country, and his attempt to spend the rest of his days living there with his wife and daughter as a farmer. He believes that by investing in large projects based on his studies of farming-related statistics, he can become successful in only a few years. He does not succeed.
- The whole premise of Ruggles Of Red Gap involves Ruggles, a stuffy English valet who is Stiff Upper Lip and The Jeeves rolled into one, coming into the employ of an American businessman and getting dragged to the one-horse mining town of Red Gap, WA. Hilarity Ensues.
- Madison from Splash might be a literal case since she's a mermaid.
- In Beverly Hills Cop; Axel Foley, a streetwise Detroit police detective, must solve a murder case in swanky Beverly Hills.
- Played with Hanna in the Moccan hotel, cause she never been in a place with electricity and tv before.
- The key premise of Beastmaster 2: Through the Portal of Time: Valley Girl meets Barbarian Hero in a fantasy world, and Barbarian Hero teaming up with Valley Girl in The Real World.
- Less funny example in The Shawshank Redemption. Prisoners who spend too long in prison become "institutionalised" and have no idea how to live in the outside world:
: "I can't believe how fast things move on the outside. I saw an automobile once when I was a kid, but, now they're everywhere. The world went and got itself in a big damn hurry. A parole board got me into this halfway house called the Brur, and a job: baggin groceries at the Foodway. It's hard work and I try to keep up, but my hands hurt most of the time. [...] I have trouble sleeping at night. I have bad dreams like I'm fallin'. I wake up, scared, sometimes it takes me a while to remember where I am. Maybe I should get me a gun and rob the Foodway so they'd send me home. I could shoot the manager while I was at it, sorta like a bonus. I guess I'm too old for that sorta nonsense anymore. I don't like it here. I'm tired of bein' afraid all the time. I've decided... not to stay
. I doubt they'll kick up any fuss, not for an old... crook like me...
- Ax from Animorphs, frequently played up for comedic value.
- Gullivers Travels has Gulliver a fish out of several kinds of water.
- The Vorkosigan Saga provides several.
- Cordelia Vorkosigan, nee Naismith never wholly fits the niche of Barrayaran Vor-class Womanhood, and rarely bothers to try beyond letting herself be dressed "properly". Indeed an exasperated "Barrayarans!" remains her favorite explitive for over thirty years.
- Ethan Urquhart of Athos, a literal No Woman's Land, gets sent on a mission to find ovaries. He has never even seen what they are normally attached to.
- The Shadowleague books give us Zavahl and, to a lesser extent, Toulac in Gendival—the hundreds of different sentient creatures throw them off.
- In The Hobbit, main character Bilbo Baggins is dragged from his comfortable lifestyle onto a quest to kill a dragon, going from unwilling millstone to de facto leader over the course of the story.
- The very first Jeeves and Wooster story, "Extricating Young Gussie", throws British Upper-Class Twit Bertie Wooster into New York, where pretty much everything weirds him out (the early hour that commuters get up for work, the fact that there are male bartenders, and vaudeville). Subverted in later stories; while he ends up staying in New York for some time, he grows used to it almost instantly and makes as many friends as he had in England.
- In Gene Stratton Porter's Freckles, Freckles's arrival in the Limberlost swamp gives him weeks of terror. Face Your Fears works, however, and by the time he gets his first pay and kills his first rattler, he's adapted to it.
Each hour was torture to the boy. The restricted life of a great city orphanage was the other extreme of the world compared with the Limberlost. He was afraid for his life every minute. The heat was intense. The heavy wading-boots rubbed his feet until they bled. He was sore and stiff from his long tramp and outdoor exposure. The seven miles of trail was agony at every step. He practiced at night, under the direction of Duncan, until he grew sure in the use of his revolver. He cut a stout hickory cudgel, with a knot on the end as big as his fist; this never left his hand. What he thought in those first days he himself could not recall clearly afterward.
- Leo Colston, in The Go-Between, comes from a modest background and is completely lost among the guests at a grand country house. That and his naivety makes it all the easier for him to be manipulated by others.
- In Poul Anderson's Time Patrol story "Delenda Est", Deirdre is this after their rescue. They tell her You Can't Go Home Again but lie about why: they are obliterating her Alternate History. At the end, one rescuer has her brought to his era on Venus, as the most like her own; Everard doesn't argue the point.
- Chimera: Michael, who's had little exposure to the world outside of field trips and the occasional movie.
- The Mark of the Lion trilogy: Both Hadassah and Atretes in Rome; Hadassah is a small-town Jewish girl completely unaccustomed to the violence and decadence; Atretes is a comparatively primitive tribesman who flounders in all the political and social machinations (and originally doesn’t even speak the language). To a lesser degree, Julia earlier on is a Wide-Eyed Idealist out of her depth dealing with Calabah and Gaius and their friends, who are very canny and manipulative.
- Deconstructed in Unseen Academicals with Nutt. Until he got to Ankh-Morpork, he knew about the world outside his Ladyship's castle only from reading.
- Played in Winnie-the-Pooh with Tigger.
- Paddington Bear spent most of his life in Peru before he came to England, and he's a bit unacustomed to modern British life, shall we say,
- Clary Fray from The Mortal Instruments is not a hardened Shadowhunter or a Downworlder like the rest of the cast, at least at first. She jumps right on the mundie racism bandwagon rather disturbingly fast, though.
- In Whit by Iain Banks, the main character, Isis, grew up in a mildly puritanical Cult that rejects all modern technology and considers her the Chosen One. While she understands on an intellectual level that the rest of the world isn't like that, she's not prepared for how uninterested the outside world is in even trying to understand her beliefs.
- Lincoln Heights, the Sutton kids are very much so out of their element upon moving to the overwhelmingly black Lincoln heights after having spent their entire lives in a mostly white suburb. It takes them an entire season but they learn to love it.
- Northern Exposure
- Men in Trees, which, admittedly, is just a lame attempt to bring back the charm of Northern Exposure by crossing it with Sex and the City.
- Firefly. Simon Tam is a rich young doctor from the wealthy Core Planets who is forced to go on the run with the crew of Serenity because he broke his sister out of a government institution. He's not familiar with handling himself on the poorer, rougher Outer Planets, and has trouble adjusting to the rag-tag, on-the-run lifestyle he's been thrust into. As a result, he seems very out of his depth and stands out like a sore thumb. Only when he's put into situations he's trained to deal with does he reveal just how confident, intelligent and talented he really is.
- Due South
- Its About Time, a '60s sitcom where astronauts travel to prehistoric times. In the final season, the astronauts return to the present with a caveman family.
- 55 Degrees North (at least for its first series)
- Hard Time On Planet Earth: An alien military officer is exiled to a primitive planet for bad behavior. He is accompanied by a floating robotic supervisor. First episodes deal with them trying to understand humans (complicated by getting most information from TV) and blend in. Later they manage to adjust, although some misunderstandings keep cropping out.
- Life On Mars
- also its sequel, Ashes To Ashes, to a lesser extent.
- Phil of the Future (The entire Diffy family)
- Teal'c in Stargate SG-1
- Mostly played for laughs, but with a few poignant moments. Teal'c has to live on a military installation in Colorado a lot of the time, but sees very little of what normal civilian life in modern America is like. It doesn't help that he has a gold emblem on his forehead. Much of what he learns about modern life comes from fiction: when asked if he has ever heard of a virgin birth, the example he thinks of is Anakin Skywalker. In one episode he tried to get an off-base apartment and have something like a normal life, and we get a full Fish Out of Water episode, complete with a Muggle love interest, until the corrupt spy group tries to take advantage of his weakness and assert that Status Quo is God.
- Farscape for most of the series run, though the "fish" character changed over time.
- The FX Reality Show 30 Days, from the guy who did Super Size Me pits different people, and occasionally the narrator himself, into living the titular number of days in a different enviroment then they're used to. Often these people will be placed at the opposite end of a controversial issue than where they were from to learn about the other side of an issue.
- Dieter, the German immigrant in Killinaskully regularly finds himself flummoxed by the bizarre goings on in the titular village. However, this seems to be less because Dieter is the Only Sane Man and more just that his own cloudcuckooland is so different from those of Ireland.
- The non-X-Series transgenics in Dark Angel, specifically Joshua at the beginning of season 2.
- Houston Knights
- Ryan on The O.C., a poor kid from the wrong side of the tracks is taken in by a rich family and introduced to the wealth-obsessed lifestyle of Newport Beach.
- The Stig on Top Gear, to the point of being an Idiot Savant. When behind the wheel, however, he's more than in his element.
- The Beverly Hillbillies
- And, from the same production team, Green Acres.
- Another spinoff, Petticoat Junction, had an arc dealing with an Air Force pilot landing and staying in rural country.
- The one-shot announcer Lance-Corporal Collier from Rutland Weekend Television. He was originally brought in for a sketch, and, as he's not shy to point out, doesn't know a whole lot about announcing.
Collier: The thing is I'm not used to this, I mean, they don't teach you much about television announcin' in the army, I mean, maybe they should, you never know...
- The main character of Unnatural History, Henry Griffin, lived in pretty much everywhere on Earth except in urban society, which is where the show takes place.
- Perfect Strangers ran on this trope.
- Series 7 of Red Dwarf has Kochanski, albeit a version of her from a parallel universe. As a result, she knows the characters but they have completely opposite personalities to how she's used to them. Much of the series is about how she feels lonely and doesn't fit in.
- Once Upon a Time: Emma gets this once she ends up in the Enchanted Forest. She's an Action Girl, but she has no clue how to handle magical creatures, or the fact that the fairy tale characters from her childhood are all real. Her Wrong Genre Savvy doesn't help.
- The X-Files episodes "Tunguska" and "Terma" see Mulder and Krycek stuck in a Russian gulag. The trope is played straight with Mulder and zig-zagged with Krycek. It's inverted when Krycek is revealed to have connections in Russia and talks his way out of his cell, then played straight later in the forest when he has his arm cut off by the opposition to his former captors. Finally it's inverted again when Krycek, still in Russia and now with a prosthetic arm, is revealed to have hired an assassin to sabotage American efforts in the "arms race" to develop a vaccine for the black oil.
- Castiel, an angel, in Supernatural has difficulty blending into humanity, which may be even more apparent when he becomes human.
- Doc Martin, not so much these days, since he's been living there a while by now.
- The BBC dramady Ballykissangel started out as this, with Father Peter Clifford, a Manchester priest assigned to the titular Irish hamlet, frequently crossing philosophical swords with Assumpta Fitzgerald. Midway through Season 3, it took a turn for the soapy.
- Yes bassist Chris Squire called his 1975 debut solo album Fish Out Of Water, a multi-reference to his nickname, "Fish", his being away from Yes and as a solo artist, and his trying out different styles and instrumentations on the album from what he was used to. The cover of the album shows Chris standing inside a fish's skeleton.
Play By Post Games
- A vast number of the characters on Shadowside have this premise, and most of the subtropes are covered.
Video and Computer Games
- Tidus in Final Fantasy X is a fish out of water as he is actually from an imaginary version of a long-since-destroyed city. The only time he feels comfortable in the new world is while playing blitzball, an underwater sport common to both his world and Spira.
- Merrill in Dragon Age II is a Dalish elf who was thrown out of her clan and forced to live in the elven ghetto of a human city. Her inexperience with human society (among other things her assumption that getting mugged is the "Alienage greeting" and nobody has mugged her because they don't like her) is played for laughs, as she remains oddly cheerful about it all.
- Feynriel. The poor kid doesn't fit in anywhere. His Dream Weaver powers set him apart from other mages, and the Circle, the Templars, and the Dalish are either unable or unwilling to help him master them. Even if Feynriel goes to Tevinter to learn how to control his powers, he feels isolated because he isn't a ruthless power-hungry bastard like most magisters. That's not even touching his Human-Elf parentage, and the rejection he gets from both sides. Even Merrill calls him a "half-breed" at one point.
- Touhou had newcomer miko Sanae arrive from the "outside world" (I.E. normal, mundane earth), to Gensokyo because of her Physical God deities needing to travel to someplace with enough faith to sustain their existence, which the modern world was lacking in. She is repeatedly noted as "lacking in the common sense of Gensokyo" (to which many fans noted that "sanity is a weakness in Gensokyo"), and when she eventually started trying to do "miko stuff" like go on youkai extermination trips, she gained notariety for starting the "sadist" meme from appearing to enjoy her fight with Kogasa a little too much, and when she met a shapeshifting Nue youkai who was trying to transform into her fears, Sanae was elated to have found a "real live space alien!", and wanted to get her picture taken with her.
- Flora, Layton's ward in the Professor Layton series, freely admits to this trope when she's fascinated by such mundane things as a simple country fair. Justified, since she's spent the last several years living in a village full of Ridiculously Human Robot servants.
- Everyone in Earthsong is like this.
- Mentl, a street musician from our world who finds himself in a world of Medieval Fantasy in The Challenges of Zona. He adapts fairly quickly due to his meeting and falling in love with the title character and his musical knowledge and ability giving him magical powers although there are still a few bumps here and there.
- Secret of Keychain of Creation is essentially a nice girl, but because she allowed her name to be taken to become an Abyssal, she's become a threat to all of existence. Plus, she's forced to kill occasionally or her weapon will kill her in her sleep.
- Gai Gin: Gin is an American university student adapting to life in Japan.
- John Silver in The Second Crimean War (an American from Miami stranded in the middle of a Ukrainian civil war in the dead of winter) is an example of this.
- Ruby Larose in Sticky Dilly Buns. The poor, angry nerd.
- Jack from Thornsaddle is a muggle-born (who knows nothing of wizards) in his first year at a wizard school. Much of the comedy comes from his tendency to deconstruct many of the facets of wizard society.
- Underling has this as the main plot of the story.
- Alice Grove: Ardent, a tourist from space, apparently didn't do enough research on local culture. For example, he's confused when a woman's response to his request for sex is to slap him in the face.
- With The Angels.
- Phase, in the Whateley Universe. Ultra-rich, spoiled teenager from a mutant-hating family becomes a mutant and gets kicked out. This kid who has been waited on hand and foot ends up at Whateley Academy, surrounded by mutants and struggling to fit in. Not usually played for humor.
- Leta Adler of "Caelum Lex" was raised in wealth and luxury on her home planet and thus finds herself very out of place when she boards a rusty space pirate ship full of criminals and lowlives.
- Surprisingly, there are a few fishes that can literally pull this off:
- Mudskippers, a species of mangrove-dwelling gobies that can stay active out of the water for extended times.
- Catfishes from the genus Clarias can jump out of the water and "walk" around, as are Asiatic snakeheads. This trait is also part of the reason why the snakehead thrives as an invasive species In America.
- Lungfishes (except the non-African ones) can hibernate in hardened mud for months at times.
- Anyone living in a foreign country or merely visiting one either on vacation or for business purposes can feel like this at first.
- Any highly competent person who gets hired for a job they have no talent for. Meriwether Lewis was a highly competent explorer and a very poor governor.
- Commonly, military units that have been trained or even raised in a particular environment find themselves in a completely different one, and have to fight and win under completely unfamiliar conditions. The French and later the Germans in the Russian winter are a classic example. Another is the British "Desert Rats," who later fought in the jungles of Burma. Sometimes this is deliberate — a unit might be issued the wrong equipment and trained for different climates to fool any spies into thinking it will be going somewhere else.