"The Simpson story begins back in the old country. I forget which one, exactly."
So, you want to introduce a European immigrant to your North American-based show. You want the character to get up to lots of Fish out of Water
fun as his crazy traditions clash with modern American life, marvel at the amazing wealth of Americans and contrast it with the poverty of his homeland, and provide incisive Whoopi Epiphany Speeches
about how different life was back in his one-tractor peasant town, all while talking in an outrageous accent. So, their homeland needs to be poor, backward, simple, oppressive, rustic and pastoral, with crazy traditions and, of course, a distinctive accent.
There's just one problem - if you claim this geographic hodgepodge is a real country, you'll get a lot of complaints from nationals of that country, either because you've totally misrepresented their traditions, or because you've just described them as a bunch of uneducated peasants. So, the best route to take is to ignore the country issue altogether: Whenever you need to have your character talk about his origins, have them call it "the old country".
The old country is usually a Ruritania
, with splashes of Bavaria
, the Mediterranean
, the Former Soviet Union, Scandinavia
. Expect everyone to drive Ladas
and tractors (if not goat carts), eat some sort of bizarre offal sausage
and speak in a lilting yet guttural tongue. May be a case of Where the Hell Is Springfield?
Note that this has definitely not
been Truth in Television
since The Nineties
in the east and The Sixties
in the west. Most of Western and Northern Europe is as urbane, cosmopolitan, and wealthy as the United States (Scandinavia in particular being considerably richer
per capita, at least nominally), and even Eastern Europe (with a couple of exceptions
) is doing a lot better now than in the Cold War
days. And naturally, the people
that come from such developed countries are not going to be poor, unlettered stereotypical 19th century Central European Jews
- There's a short story in Neil Gaiman's The Sandman in which a modern-day grandfather tells his teenage granddaughter a folk tale from the old country and then hints at the end that the tale's hero was, in fact, himself as a young man. Also, apparently their entire family are werewolves.
- The titular character in Borgel by Daniel Pinkwater claims to be from The Old Country (more recently, he lived in The Old Apartment in The Old Building in The Old Neighborhood). His Old Country is in Another Dimension instead of Europe, but otherwise is very much a parody of this trope; everyone there is so poor they all sleep in ditches and use dead skunks for clothing, they speak a language that sounds like someone preparing to spit, and Borgel has a number of stories from there which are generally total nonsense.
- Several of Jack O'Connell's Quinsigamond novels involve characters who came to the US from the Central European state of Old Bohemia, which appears in the world of the novels to be an actual country rather than a romanticised name for a region.
- Uberwaldians living in Ankh-Morpork in the Discworld novels occasionally call it "Zer Old Country", usually when complaining about the absence of psychotropic scenery on the Plains or in gratitude that in the city they're unlikely to be killed without at least being given a reason.
- House and Scrubs have both featured doctors, struggling with their Worthless Foreign Degrees, who merely came from the old country.
- Latka Gravas of Taxi fame, whose country was entirely fictional and rather vague. Probably the Trope Codifier for the current era.
- The original All That had a recurring character named Ishboo (played by Kenan Thompson) who fit this trope.
- His home country was actually called "Foreign Land", meaning that the actual name of the country was Foreign Land.
- The Munsters reboot had Grandpa often musing on "The Old Country" with all its traditions of ghosts, vampires, werewolves, possibly Romania but never stated so.
- A recurring character on Late Night with Conan O'Brien was Gustavo, an arrogant European who constantly insisted that Europe was superior to America in every way. In each of his appearances, Conan asks what country in Europe he's from, but Gustavo always refuses to answer, usually claiming that Americans would be too stupid to have heard of it. This is the closest he's come to giving any details on his country:
: What are you? Are you French? Gustavo
: Heh, my country fought against France in World War II. Conan
: Okay, so you're German or Italian. Gustavo
: We fought them too. Conan
: Wait, what? You fought both sides
in World War II. Gustavo
: We fought all three sides.
- Pierre, on Danger 5. While the other members of the eponymous Multinational Team of spies represent the major Allied powers of World War II - the USA, UK, and USSR - plus Australia, Pierre is simply "from Europe", and seems to be a mishmash of French, Italian, and Spanish stereotypes.
- Borderline instance on an early episode of Jeeves and Wooster, where Prof. Kluj and his wife have strong emotional reactions to anything that reminds them of the old country. Only borderline because the professor does explicitly name it as Romania in one scene (and describe it as "dump"), but mostly it's just referred by nonspecific descriptions.
- Subverted and parodied in the Shake It Up episode "Hot Mess It Up": When Funny Foreigner Gunther talked about taking a trip to "the old country", he meant that he was heading to Saint Louis for a sequin convention.
- Busch Gardens Williamsburg is a European themed amusement park in Williamsburg, Virginia. Formerly known as Busch Gardens: The Old Country in its early years.
- In Grand Theft Auto IV, the homeland of protagonist Niko Bellic is not named, and he and his cousin refer to "the old country". However, they speak Serbian in-game.
- He is quick to correct people that is definitely not from Russia though.
- Rolf from Ed, Edd n Eddy claims to be from "the old country", which is a land of strange folk tales, ghastly traditions involving seafood, and lederhosen. Perhaps he's actually from Cloudcuckooland.
- Rolf is based (and exaggerated) from childhood experiences of the show's creator, Danny Antonucci, himself the child of Italian immigrants, dealing with the culture shock that sort of upbringing provides.
- In Kick Buttowski, this is where Gunther's family is from. Aparently it is set somewhere Norse by Norsewest, where the people still follow the old ways. One episode takes place there, and it is indeed called The Old Country.
- Didi's parents on Rugrats are like this. Especially her father. Apparently, in the old country, a woman gives birth in the potato fields, puts the child on her back and keeps going. Yeah.
- He also claims thay grew up "sleeping with the goats" at which point Didi states that he actually came from a well-off family, and wouldn't know a goat if it bit him.
- In the Chanukah special they said he grew up in Russia.
- Parodied on The Simpsons - see the page quote.
- Tish's family in The Weekenders. Again, it is just called The Old Country and nobody knows which one. When a television report was done on Tish, they said experts were unable to locate on a map or even pronounce the country. Presumably it no longer exists...
- There's actually a region in northern Germany called Altes Land. It's known primarily for its fruit orchards.