Mistaken for Foreigner

This trope is when a minority character is automatically assumed to be from the country of their ethnic origin (or someplace vaguely close to it), even though their accent, dress, and all other mannerisms reflect the country they call home, which makes sense because they were born and raised there. A common example would be an Asian-American being asked where they're from, or asked about an aspect of an Asian culture, only for them to curtly respond in a plain American accent, "I'm from Pittsburgh."

Subtrope of Mistaken Nationality. Not to be confused with Fake Nationality, which is when the actor is a different nationality than the character they're portraying. Two inversions would be Fauxreigner, when a character is not foreign but plays up their ethnic background as a gimmick, and But Not Too Foreign, when the character really is from a different country, but the story goes out of its way to prove that they're "just like us."


Comic Book

  • In Crash, Graham cuts short a conversation with his mother on the phone because he's "having sex with [his] Mexican girlfriend." This offends his girlfriend; not only was she bothered by his flippancy toward his mother, but because her parents are from Central and South America and she herself was born and raised in California.
  • Mean Girls: The principal announces that they have a New Transfer Student from Africa. The schoolteacher gestures to a girl of African-American descent, telling her "Welcome." The girl, clearly affronted, says "I'm from Michigan."
  • Johnny Dangerously has a Spinning Newspaper read mob boss Roman Moronie deported to Greece,"...SAYS HE NOT FROM THERE"
  • In Captain America: The First Avenger (which takes place during World War II), a number of American POWs are liberated from a Nazi prison camp and one of them (Dugan) stumbles upon a Japanese man.
    Dugan: We taking anyone with us, now?
    Morita: I'm from Fresno, Ace.
    • Subverted in an earlier scene. During his physical Steve receives a doctor with a heavy German accent. He asks him (Dr. Erskine) where he's from and the doctor replies: "Queens... before zat, Germany."
  • Born In East L.A. is about a Mexican-American who is mistaken for an illegal immigrant and wrongfully deported.
  • In Earth Girls Are Easy, an Indian gas station attendant yells "I'm from here!" when the aliens invade his store; he thinks they're there to rob the store and doesn't want them to attack him for being foreign.
  • In The Karate Kid remake, while flying to China while moving away from Detroit, Dre is encouraged by his mother to strike up a conversation in Chinese to an Asian man sitting next to him. Turns out that man is also from Detroit.
  • Played for laughs in Short Circuit, where Ben (supposedly an Indian) is asked where he's from:
    Ben: Bakersfield, originally.
    Newton: No, I mean your ancestors.
    Ben: Oh, them. Pittsburgh.
  • In Ghostbusters II, Peter asks the generically Eastern European Janosz "Where the hell are you from, Johnny?" and Janosz replies with a perplexed "The Upper Vest Side."

  • Happens a lot in Discworld, especially with non-human races, who are still thought of as coming from elsewhere even though many of them are born in Ankh-Morpork. Unseen Academicals has this:
    Juliet (about a Dwarf): He should go back to where he came from.
    Glenda: That'll be Treacle Mine Road, then, he was born in the city.

Live-Action TV
  • The Big Bang Theory: While the gang eats at a Chinese restaurant, the owner Mr. Chen asks where Howard is. Sheldon replies that "he's putting his needs above the common good", then turns to the others and adds "Where he comes from that's punishable by death." Mr. Chen responds, "I come from Sacramento."
  • In the Father Ted episode "Grant Unto Him Eternal Rest", a group of priests and nuns are gathered at Father Jack's funeral when a nun approaches a black priest and begins gushing about the good work done by the church in Africa, and how is that going? He replies "Sure and I wouldn't know, I'm from Donegal."
  • Friends had Rachel meeting Ross on his return from a archaeology dig in China, with his new girlfriend, Julie. When Rachel sees them together, she tries to give the bouquet of flowers to Julie:
    Ross: Oh, are these for me?
    Rachel: Uh, no...these are for you [[gives them to Julie]] (very pronounced English) Welcome to our country!
    Julie: (responding in the same way) Thank you! I'm from New York!
  • In Its Always Sunny In Philadelphia, Mac and Charlie were trying to write a movie to get to M. Night Shyamalan. When in the library, they decide they need a new writer, so they turn to the nearest Ambiguously Brown kid and ask him where he's from. When he just lists a US state, they say they mean where his parents are from...and he lists another US state. Eventually they suss it out that he's of Pakistani descent, which is close enough to Indian for them.
  • Played with in Martial Law in regards to Grace. She was born in China but raised in the United States before returning to live in China for sometime as a cop and came back to the United States.
  • In Modern Family, Mitch and Cam take Lily to the doctor after she gets injured. The doctor is Asian, and Cam makes several clumsy (if harmless) remarks and gestures, only for her to repeatedly remind him that she's from Denver.
  • Parks and Recreation: Season 2's "The Stakeout" has Leslie trying to pin down Tom's origins.
    Leslie: You're not from here, right?
    Tom: No, I'm from South Carolina.
    Leslie: Right, but you moved to South Carolina from where?
    Tom: From my mother's uterus.
    Leslie: But you were conceived in Libya, right?
  • In Psych, the main character hires a Chinese-American assistant, fire him when they realize they have no need for one, and then consult him when they want to know about the local Chinese gangs. He tells them that he only speaks a few words in Chinese, and those are numbers.
  • In an episode of Bones, Angela (half-Asian) finds an inscription in Chinese on a piece of evidence. When Hodgins asks her to translate it, she pretends to do it and tells him, "Why does white man think I read Chinese?" Hodgins is surprised, having assumed her to know at least some Chinese. She doesn't.

Professional Wrestling

Stand-Up Comedy
  • Margaret Cho addresses this in her comedy routines all the time, such as hatemail telling her to go back to her "home country", or TV personalities asking her to address the camera in her "native language", even though she was born and raised in San Francisco and is only fluent in English.
  • Henry Cho (no relation) is of Korean descent, but was born and raised in Knoxville, Tennessee and speaks with a southern US accent. Much of his comedy involves the difference between how people expect him to act/speak, and how he really is.

Video Games
  • Lisa Silverman from Persona 2 is a blonde-haired, blue-eyed girl of wholly Caucasian ancestry. However, she was born and raised in Japan. This doesn't stop her classmates from thinking she must know English or is a transfer student from America. This example is more understandable than most, however, since Japan is a very homogeneous country in real life and Lisa's situation is far from the norm.

Web Comics

Real Life
  • After she spoke out about a spate of anti-Muslim sentiment, a columnist for Montreal's La Presse newspaper, Rima Elkouri, received several hate mail messages telling her to go back to where she came from. She wrote a scathing editorial called O.K.! Je retourne dans mon pays (OK! I'll return to my country!) where she offered to get on the metro and return to the northern Montreal neighbourhood where she was born.
  • Anyone who obviously not of the predominant racial and ethnic group of wherever they are, especially if they are of a very small minority, will likely be asked what country they're really from, even if they were born there. To avoid looking like a jackass, just accept their first answer as to where they're from; if they're actually foreign, they'll most likely tell you right off the bat.
  • 2014 Miss America Nina Davuluri was the first Indian-American to win the crown and faced a xenophobic backlash from racists who thought she was a foreigner, despite the fact that she is not only a US citizen but was born and raised in Syracuse, New York. The fact that they mistook her for an Arabic Muslim in their ranting didn't help either. Not that her being Arab or Muslim (most Indians are Hindu) would have justified their hatred, but it certainly drove home their ignorance.