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Mistaken Nationality
Hank: So, are you Chinese or Japanese?
Kahn: I live in California last twenty years, but first come from Laos.
Hank: Huh?
Kahn: Laos. We Laotian.
Bill: The ocean? What ocean?
Kahn: We are Laotian! From Laos, stupid! It's a landlocked country in South East Asia between Vietnam and Thailand, okay? Population 4.7 million!
(Beat)
Hank: So, are you Chinese or Japanese?
King of the Hill, "Westie Side Story"note 

In Real Life, people far too often make erroneous assumptions about others based on flimsy or non-existent evidence. This is especially the case when regarding those who in some way are "outsiders". Often, hilariously wrong assumptions will be made based solely on appearance, failing to take into account the behaviour of the subject or other relevant circumstances. One common form of this is to presume that a foreign-looking person belongs to such-and-such nationality and getting it very wrong. This also happens with people of nationalities with animosity towards each other, e.g. some former Soviet countries assuming people are Russian.

For example: in East Asian countries like Japan or China, anyone with sufficiently pale skin will usually be presumed to be Americans, despite this nationality only constituting a minority of "Western" visitors to these countries. A related form is assuming that foreign-looking people with the same nationality and native tongue as yourself are foreigners ignorant of your language. Or assuming that people who both look foreign and are foreign are ignorant of the local tongue, when they are in fact fluent.

Interchangeable Asian Cultures is a Sub-Trope dealing specifically with confusing or lumping Asian ethnicities and cultures together. Non-Specifically Foreign is when no-one knows what country the character is from.

Compare I Am Not Weasel, where the problem is a mistaken species. Contrast Fake Nationality and its sub-tropes.

Examples:

    open/close all folders 

    Advertising 
  • Played for Laughs in a famous Australian ad for Moccona "Mocha Kenya" coffee. A woman is in a supermarket when she sees an incredibly handsome black man standing by the coffee shelves. She asks him to reach for a Mocha Kenya jar for her, flirtily saying "I'm into something slightly more exotic... like where you're from!" The man responds, in an incredibly camp English accent, "Really? Shropshire? How wonderful."

    Anime & Manga 
  • In an episode of Azumanga Daioh, Yukari attempts to show off her English skills by running up to a random white person on the street and jabbering at him (for as all Japanese know, Gaijin are always Americans). She then runs away in embarassment when she discovers her target is in fact German.
  • From the same author, Yotsuba&! has a group of students who find Yotsuba asleep on the school's stairs (long story) speak to her in English, assuming she's a foreigner due to her green hair. She actually is foreign (place of birth unknown), but has spent most of her life in Japan.
  • In Kodomo no Omocha, the But Not Too Foreign character is assumed to be foreign. "Oh, he speaks Japanese". "I am Japanese!"
  • In Himitsu no Akko-chan from the 1980s, Akko is trying to communicate with a lost child who speaks only English. As it happens, Akko's special ability is taking on the appearance and skills of any person she can capture the image of in her magic compact mirror. Akko sees an obviously foreign woman and assumes she's American — but when she gets back to the lost child, discovers that the child still can't understand a word Akko is saying. Turns out the copied woman was Spanish....
  • In the Gravitation anime and manga Yuki Eiri is often mistaken as a foreigner, a cause of shame for his conservative Buddhist monk father. Seguchi Tohma also has very foreign features and takes Eiri to New York as a teenager hoping that he will feel more comfortable outside of Japan.
  • In Sayonara, Zetsubou-Sensei, when Mr. Itoshiki first writes his name on the chalkboard, his students, at a loss as to how to parse the kanji of his name, briefly speculate that he might be Chinese. Predictibly, Itoshiki gets a good rant in about this.
  • Overlapping with Accidental Misnaming, in Axis Powers Hetalia, nearly everyone mistakes Canada for America. Also, in the 2011 Hetalia Bloodbath, Seychelles seems to be under the impression that Cuba represents an Asian nation.
    Seychelles: We show a lot of cleavage in the West and Africa, but they don't really wear open-chested clothes in Asia. Huh, Mr. Cuba? Huh?
    Cuba: Why are you asking me this?

    Comics — Books 
  • Wolverine once went to Japan to deliver a ransom for a friend's son. The gangsters who greeted him were surprised; they hadn't expected an American. Wolvie callously states that he's Canadian, bub. The lead gangster laughs, saying that it doesn't make any difference (and hinting that he might not know the difference).
    • This is almost a Running Joke since readers forget that he's Canadian due to how much time he spends with the X-Men.
  • In Mingamanga: On Korbinian's first day in school, the teacher mistakes him not only for a girl, but a Pole. Reasons: His last name Panikowski (because of a great-grandfather who was a soldier from Prussia who stayed in Bavaria), his thick dialect which renders his home village Kleinbierbach to "Kloabirboch", which is mistaken for "Globirbow", which sounds Polish indeed.
  • In Astérix and the Great Crossing, Obelix and Asterix mistake Native Americans for Cretians and then Iberians. The viking crew that picks them up also mistake the Gauls for Natives.
  • When the Runaways got stuck in New York City circa 1907, leader Nico Minoru was repeatedly called a "Chink" or an "Oriental" by various locals. When their host, the Swell, calls her a "Chinee", she's annoyed enough to correct him by stating that she is "from Japan, by way of Glendale" - which is to say that she considers herself every bit as American as the Swell. This, of course, does not stop her from being rounded up by the bigots of the Upward Path.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • Occurs repeatedly in the movie Crash.
  • In Falling Down, Prendergast interviews the Korean shopkeeper Mr. Lee (Michael Paul Chan) and asks Detective Brian (Steve Park) if he can translate for him. Brian says no, because the shopkeeper is Korean, and he's Japanese-American. (In Real Life, Park is Korean and Chan is Chinese.)
  • In Blood Diamond an American journalist mistakes Danny Archer (Leonardo DiCaprio) for South African. He comments that he's in fact from Rhodesia (intentionally using the old name for Zimbabwe).
  • An exchange between three elderly cowboys early on in the film 7 Faces of Dr. Lao:
    "Who's that, anyway?"
    "I don't know. Looked like a Jap to me."
    "Nah, he's Chinese."
    "How do you know?"
    "'Cause I ain't stupid."
  • Brilliantly used in The Spanish Prisoner because "nobody suspects Japanese tourists".
  • In In the Loop, the American General Miller gets into a pissing contest with the Scottish Malcolm Tucker, ending with calling the Scot a "little English bitch." Malcolm doesn't mind any of Miller's profanity, but bristles at being called English, which leaves Miller confused.
  • Put in the movie Fanboys, possibly as a moment of did not do research. The Star Wars fans and the Star Trek fans are fighting, and one of the Trekkies proclaim Captain Picard is British. The character of Jean-Luc Picard is French. The actor who portrays him, Patrick Stewart, is English (or at least English trained).
  • In the French movie Le Boulet, the villain Mustapha Amel (José Garcia) in repeatedly called "The Kurd" — to his great annoyance, since his correct nickname is "The Turk". It reaches a point where he's ready to start gunning down anybody making the mistake.
  • In Big Stan, when Rob Schneider got the respect of everyone in prison, and everyone is turning to him for advice, one of the problems that arise is that the Brazilian guys keep calling one inmate "Arab" when he's actually Persian. (In Real Life, Brazilians DO tend to call anyone from Middle Eastern either "Arab" or "Turkish".)
  • In the Affectionate Parody Murder by Death, this is the Poirot Expy's Berserk Button:
    Milo Perrier: I am not a Frenchy! I am a Belgy!
  • Go for Broke, a film about the predominantly Japanese-American 442nd regiment, has this exchange with a new Lieutenant who momentarily believes he's been given an Irish sergeant.
    "Your platoon sergeant is over in the supply room. Ohara"
    "O'Hara?!"
    "That's right, Takashi Ohara."
  • In the film In Bruges, Ray argues with, and punches, a loud-mouthed Canadian tourist in a restaurant, thinking him to be American.
  • Captain America: The First Avenger: "I'm from Fresno, Ace."
  • In the reboot of The Karate Kid, Dre is ordered by his mother to practice his Chinese while on a plane. So he turns to a Chinese guy sitting near him and says something, only for the guy to respond, "Dude, I'm from Detroit."
  • In The Replacements, Nigel Gruff gets confused for an Irishman. He angrily retorts that he's Welsh.

    Literature 
  • Hercule Poirot is commonly assumed to be French by people who do not know that more than one francophone country exists. Especially ironic since Frenchmen and Belgians tend to disparage each other.
    • At least once it almost caused serious problems: Poirot was arrested while abroad, and one of his acquaintances promised to inform the French Consulate immediately of his plight. Luckily he managed to shout "Belgian Consulate!" as he was being dragged away.
  • In the CHERUB series, the training instructor Yosyp Kazakov is Ukrainian. ''Not'' Russian. Call him a Russian, and he will not be happy.
  • Edilio Escobar from Michael Grant's GONE series is from Honduras, but is often referred to by the ignorant townsfolk of Perdido Beach as "The Mexican one", much to his chargin.
  • In the Laundry novel The Atrocity Archives, Bob believes his co-worker Boris to be a Russian spy. In The Fuller Memorandum, Bob corrects his mistake by revealing that Boris is a native British subject who suffers from Foreign Accent Syndrome induced by close encounters with eldritch abominations.
  • Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea: Subverted, The novel emphasizes the mystery of Captain Nemo hiding his nationality. Even when his eyes are black and his skin is pale, Aronnax lampshades that he is not sure invoking Interchangeable Asian Cultures
    "I admit that the nationality of the two strangers is hard to determine. Neither English, French, nor German, that is quite certain. However, I am inclined to think that the commander and his companion were born in low latitudes. There is southern blood in them. But I cannot decide by their appearance whether they are Spaniards, Turks, Arabians, or Indians"
  • In the western novels of J.T. Edson, General Hardin's valet Tommy Okasi is Japanese. Almost everyone assumes that he is Chinese. Justified as the Chinese were the only Asians most people in The Wild West had ever encountered.
  • In The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, Lizbeth Salander's boss, Dragan Armansky, is stated as having been born in Croatia to an Armenian Jewish father from Belarus and a Bosnian Muslim mother of Greek extraction. Because of his mother, he is considered Muslim, but the Swedish immigration authorities supposedly list him as a Serb (an ethnicity that is, of course, famous for being associated with Muslims.) And apparently, despite having no Arab ancestry, there are still people who call him "the Arab".

    Live-Action TV 
  • In season 1 of LOST, Hurley repeatedly refers to Sun and Jin as being Chinese. Michael eventually corrects him.
  • A Saturday Night Live sketch from the early '90s revolved around the Turkish-American owner of a convenience store, which would be repeatedly vandalized by the same man (John Goodman) every time the US found itself in an affray in the Mideast — the oil embargo, the Iranian hostage crisis, the Gulf War, etc. — Goodman's character repeatedly assuming that the owner is from the nation involved.
  • In the Australian comedy The Games, John Clarke tries to demonstrate the multinational nature of his team by first explaining that his parents were from Scotland, then asking where an obviously Asian character comes from, which turns out to be Sydney. John tries to probe further, and it turns out that his family has lived in Australia for several generations.
  • In Heroes, Hope refers to the Japanese Hiro and Ando as "Chinese".
  • In Just Shoot Me!, Maya is often mistaken for Puerto Rican.
    • There was an entire episode about this one. The most painful bit was when a starving Elliot mistakes a visiting Japanese businessman as a Chinese food delivery guy.
  • Subverted in Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip, where a Nevada judge (also played by John Goodman) merely pretends to mistake a Chinese guy for Japanese.
  • Carla from Scrubs is Dominican, and gets angry when people (particularly her husband) think she's from Puerto Rico. This is the subject of her song in The Musical.
  • In Plain Sight: Marshall, trying to make small talk with a witness, comments that Albuquerque must be a big change from Moscow. The witness responds that she is from Kiev, but Marshall continues to assume that she's Russian, and she has to explain that Kiev is in Ukraine.
  • On The Office Michael Scott comments that Karen looks "exotic", and goes on to ask, "Was your dad a GI?"
  • Really more of a Mistaken Ethnicity, but in Glee Rachel makes the claim that Natalie Wood was Jewish, when, in fact, she was Russian Orthodox....
  • The Wire has two examples. "Boris" is actually Sergei Malatov, a Ukrainian, but by God the people of Baltimore know a Boris when they hear one. For somebody who dismembers murder victims for a living, he takes it pretty well. His boss is a man known only as "the Greek", but when he skips town at the end of Season 2 he notes, "I'm not even Greek." Subtle clues suggest he's Pontic Greek, i.e., from northern Turkey with Greek heritage.
    • There's also a more meta-example. In one episode Kima randomly gets asked by a shop keeper if she's one of those black-Vietnamese mixes. (Possibly from a black soldier in Vietnam and an Asian Baby Mama). The actress playing Kima is part black and part Korean.
  • A running gag in Rules of Engagement is Russell forgetting that his assistant Timmy is South African and referring to him as English.
  • In Flight of the Conchords, the duo (New Zealanders living in New York) are mistaken for Australians or Brits several times.
  • On the short-lived Whoopi Goldberg sitcom Whoopi, the title character had an Iranian friend named Nasim who would blow up when people called him an Arab.

    Tabletop Games 
  • In the fiction section that opens Scion: God, Coyote hears that Yukiko (daughter of the Japanese god Susano-o) is after him to retrieve the golden cup from the Wishing Staff of Sun Wukong (a Chinese god) and assumes she's Wukong's daughter, saying, "I thought you looked Chinese." He is corrected very quickly. At swordpoint.
    • What is more, Sun Wukong is a monkey god.

    Theater 
  • In Wonderful Town, Lonigan and the other cops sing and dance an Irish jig in honor of Eileen, under the mistaken impression that she's as Irish as her first name.
  • Subversion in The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee. It is mentioned that Marcy (who is usually played by an Asian-American actress) is new to the county, a new transfer student from Virginia, to which Leaf responds with something to the effect of, "Virginia's a beautiful country". (In addition, some productions have Rona misread the line as "new to this country" only to correct herself after some response by Marcy)

    Video Games 
  • In Fallout 3's Mothership Zeta expansion, Paulson (a 19th century cowboy) refers to Toshiro Kago (a 16th century Samurai) as a "Chinaman" until he is corrected.
  • In Leisure Suit Larry: Magna Cum Laude, Larry Lovage starts off talking to Analisa by speaking Spanish to her, thinking she's Mexican. She then rudely barks back, "Hey, fucko! I ain't Mexican, you prick; I'm Italian."
  • In Project X Zone, Gemini and Erica think that Sanger is a Japanese samurai, though he never says what nationality he is anyway.note 
  • In Assassins Creed IV Edward Keyway responds to being called "Englishman" with an emphatic "I'm Welsh."
    • Just before storming a fort, Edward asks his quartermaster Adéwalé, a former slave, if he'll return to Africa and live like a king with his share of the gold they'll take. Adéwalé then explains that he was born in Trinidad. When Edward asks if he'd feel more at home in Africa, Adéwalé asks if Edward would feel at home in Paris.

    Web Comics 
  • In Misfile, Missi is accused of liking Japanese cars because she's Japanese, but she's actually Chinese.
  • Waterworks: A Running Gag is for Jose to be mistaken for a French man, much to his frustration.

    Web Original 
  • Ambiguously Brown Amir in Awkward Black Girl is ironically one of the worst offenders.
    Amir: We should totally get Cinco de Mayo off. I mean, my arms are ... shit ... they're still tired from all that swimming. Right, mija?
    CeCe (who's Indian): You know I'm not Mexican.
  • More than a few first time viewers assume the Epic Meal Time chefs are American because of the greasy foods they partake in once a week.
  • When Generator of the Whateley Universe starts school at Whateley Academy, some cliquish girls tell her to go back to China. She was born in Topeka, Kansas. She does have some Japanese ancestry.
  • Psycomedia has this preceded by a great deal of foreshadowing by one host, until it's used to introduce their episode on prejudice.

    Western Animation 
  • King of the Hill
    • In the episode where the Souphanousinphone family is introduced, the page quote exchange takes place. Amusingly, Hank's irritable and somewhat bigoted father knows immediately Kahn is Laotian, possibly from being a World War II vet. Even more amusing is that "next to Vietnam" doesn't ring a bell, given Hank's age.
    • On the other hand, in a Japanese Steak-house, Cotton calls the Hispanic cook a "Tojo", causing the cook to ask, "¿Qué es 'tojo'?" ("What's a 'Tojo'?")
  • In Pet Alien, there is an English kid who is always mistaken for Norwegian despite his obvious Englishness — tea and crumpets and everything.
  • South Park has Pip Pirrup, who's unmistakably British. All the other kids assume he's French, though.
    • Reversed in the movie, where Cartman assumes walking French stereotype The Mole is English.
  • In the two-parter Code Lyoko prequel "XANA Awakens", this happens to Yumi Ishiyama at least twice.
    Sissi: (to Ulrich) What are you doing with this Chinese girl!?
    Yumi: I. Am. JAPANESE!!
  • In an episode of The Simpsons, Homer, Abe, Ned and Apu buy medicine in Canada in order to smuggle it over the border. Abe gets very enraged when the clerk at the pharmacy assumes him to be a fellow Canadian, forgetting for a moment that posing as Canadian citizens is the whole point.
  • While Phoebe on Hey Arnold! is indeed fifty percent Japanese, her principal believes she is a foreign exchange student form the far off land "Ken Ta Kay". She said she was born in Kentucky.
  • Korra plays with this: shortly after meeting Bolin, he correctly deduces her nationality/ability; when she replies that she's actually an earthbender, he hastily apologizes for the assumption. She enjoys confusing him further by stating that she is indeed a waterbender, as well as a firebender.

    Real Life 
  • People do this in real life all the time:
    • Black people will be assumed to be Africans.
      • Except, occasionally, in United States, every black person will be referred to as an African-American regardless of nationality, in cases of Political Correctness Gone Mad.
    • South-East Asians will all be assumed to be Chinese.
    • If someone looks Middle Eastern people will think he is an Arab. In many European countries everyone who looks this way will be called a "Moroccan".
    • People who speak French will assumed to be French. Frequent victims of this are Canadians, Belgians, the Swiss, Monegasques or any person from their former colonies.
    • People who speak German will assumed to be German. Frequent victims of this are the Swiss, Austrians, Belgians, Luxembourgians and even Dutch speaking people, because Dutch sounds a bit like German in the ears of people who don't speak it.
    • People who speak Dutch will be assumed to be Germans.
    • People who speak Spanish will assumed to be Spaniards. Frequent victims of this are Latin Americans. Even Brazilians, who speak Portugese, not Spanish.
    • People who speak Portugese will assumed to be Portugese. Frequent victims of this are Brazilians, Mozambiquans, Angolans, Cape Verdians, Guinea-Bissau people, São Toméans and Príncipeans. Or they will be confused with Spaniards, whose language is mostly different.
    • Everyone from Eastern or Central Europe will be categorized as Russian.
    • Belgians are often assumed to be either Dutchmen, Germans or Frenchmen.
    • The Swiss are often assumed to be either Frenchmen, Italians or Germans.
    • Norse, Danish, Swedish and Finnish people will all be confused with each other.
    • Indians and Pakistanis are often confused with each other.
    • Australians and New Zealanders are also often confused with each other.
    • Canadians will either be mistaken for Americans, Englishmen or Frenchmen.
    • The English, the Welsh, the Scottish and the Irish will be mistaken for each other.
    • Either which African country you come from you're just a plain "African" in the eyes of foreigners.


Mistaken for RacistPrejudice TropesMisunderstood Loner with a Heart of Gold
Mistaken MessageMistaken for IndexNo Longer with Us
Mistaken for RacistRace TropesMixed Ancestry
Made In Country XNational Stereotyping TropesNational Stereotypes

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