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Mistaken for Servant

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... One never knows what mistakes may arise when one looks so like a waiter.
"Oh, hang it all!" said the young man, "a gentleman never looks like a waiter."
"Nor a waiter like a gentleman, I suppose," said Colonel Pound, with the same lowering laughter on his face.
"Reverend sir, your friend must have been very smart to act the gentleman."
Father Brown buttoned up his commonplace overcoat to the neck, for the night was stormy, and took his commonplace umbrella from the stand.
"Yes," he said; "it must be very hard work to be a gentleman; but, do you know, I have sometimes thought that it may be almost as laborious to be a waiter."
Father Brown, "The Queer Feet"

Ah, it's a beautiful day - you won an all-expense-paid trip to the Schwing-Ding Five-Star hotel! Aren't you excited?

Odd how the Bellhops are wearing the same type of shirt as you do. Oh look, it's Lady Drunk coming right over - gee they're so -

Oh? She wants you to walk her dog? Groom it? And there she goes, leaving the annoying yappy thing in your hands before your mouth could form around "Wait, I'm not...?".

Congrats, you just got mistaken for the hired help!

This is an almost-anytime, anywhere trope that can be Played for Laughs or could more rarely be used in more serious works. This tends to play out in four ways:

  • The Helpless Everyman who is unable to correct the other person's error and ends up stuck with either a live creature they have to keep safe until they can give it back, or a valuable that's sought after by some less scrupulous fellows. Generally, he gets no respect for the effort. Sometimes, if the person who mistook them for the help is a Jerkass, they can retaliate.
  • The scoundrel who promptly takes advantage of the situation, generally to poke fun at the victim's supposed bias or stupidity - such as a wealthy older man who presumes that a younger person at the posh club is a valet and gets his Mercedes-Benz stolen.
  • A Prince and Pauper situation where for one reason or another, a person of status is mistaken for a servant, or even a slave and is forced to work - learning humility and kindness toward the lower class.
  • The character is a spy, or has another reason to want access to a certain person's possessions, and just happens to be mistaken for the hired help for the fancy dinner bash the other person is throwing.

Notably, especially in older (mainly American) works, ethnicity is sometimes a factor in whether or not someone is mistaken for the hired help. If used in more modern works, is generally used to indicate that the character making the mistake is either bigoted or, more kindly, behind the times.

Can often be followed by Actually, I Am Him moment. If someone mistakes an anticipated guest for a servant, they may have been Expecting Someone Taller. Actually, That's My Assistant is similar, but it refers to a situation where more than two characters are involved: the mistaker doesn't think someone is their servant, but confuses who's who in a lower/higher rank pair.


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  • Rowan Atkinson's Johnny English character (an incompetent spy) began life on a series of Barclaycard commercials, one of which had him mistaking an important foreign diplomat for the plumber that Barclaycard had sent to fix the broken toilet.
  • A 2019 commercial for Progressive Insurance is presented as the opening credit sequence for an 80's style sitcom called "Maid For You". The premise seems to be a normal suburban family who suddenly find themselves with a mysterious new maid...except it's actually company spokesperson Flo who has to repeatedly explain she's not the maid.

    Anime & Manga 
  • In Area 88, Ryoko first meets Shin while he's a student at a flight school. She takes him for a skycap and asks him to stow her luggage.
  • In Gate, the party checks into a hotel. Since Rory Mercury is pretty famous, the staff are star-struck and scramble to accommodate her and her friends. However, while they see the other girls as Rory's comrades, they think Itami is her servant and snub him. They give Rory and the other girls a luxurious room and tell Itami he can just sleep in the hotel's closet. Since Itami doesn't like getting into conflicts, he just plays along. When the staff later finds out their mistake, they are left very scared and apologetic.
  • In several versions of Ghost in the Shell, the Major is mistaken for a Robot Girl servant because of her prosthetic body conforming to certain standards, and she usually plays along until it's convenient while silently fuming.
  • Hanaukyō Maid Team: When the Ryuuka first appeared, she mistook Taro for a new servant.
  • In Medabots, Ikki thinks Karin is either doing chores around the rich private school she attends because she's being punished, or because she's poor and is doing it to pay for tuition. Turns out, Karin's doing the chores because she likes doing them.
  • In Mobile Suit Gundam Wing some of the students at the Sanc Kingdom's school remark that Heero must be Quatre's servant boy or bodyguard when the pair arrives to meet with Relena. Quatre uses this to smuggle Heero inside the school without raising any eyebrows.
  • Otaku no Musume-san: Taeko gets mistaken for a waitress in an Akihabara Maid Cafe, because on the one hand all waitresses on that day were dressed up in school uniforms (and Taeko was wearing one) and, on the other hand, she looks older than her actual age. A completely reverse case (mistaken for a schoolgirl) happens once to her mother who looks younger than her actual age, and is actually a waitress in a Cosplay Café.
  • In Re:Zero when Subaru first meets Lord Roswaal he assumes the latter is a clown hired to provide the evening's entertainment. Considering Roswaal's dress sense, it's an understandable mistake.
  • SPY×FAMILY: After Anya is accepted into Eden, a group of thugs assume she's a rich girl and dismiss her adoptive mother Yor as a hired servant (because they don't think any parent who could send their child to Eden would do the shopping). Yor furiously corrects their mistake.

    Comic Books 
  • In Athena Voltaire and the Brotherhood of Shambalha, Athena is theoretically helping Desmond Forsyth on his mission, but because she's the one attuned to the supernatural goings-on, it's her that people are waiting for, and Desmond gets demoted to servant.
    Narayan: They told me to look for a white-skinned woman with dark hair, travelling with her manservant.
    Desmond: Manservant? I'll have you know that I'm a decorated agent of the British Empire!
    Athena: Please excuse my manservant, Narayan. He gets cranky after long flights.
  • Fables had this happen with Gepetto whenever he went to court to meet the emperor or attended an official meeting. Even though he was a high power in the adversary's empire, due to his poor appearance many people would mistake him for hired help and order him around. Only a select few, such as the wooden soldiers and high officials, actually knew who he really was.
  • Iron Man: A curious self-inflicted case with Tony Stark. When he actually bothered keeping a secret identity as Iron Man, claiming the armored hero was actually his bodyguard, a lot of people would treat Iron Man as just a goon for that wretched Stark. One particular team up with Doctor Doom has him, as is Doom's way, dismissing Iron Man to his face as a lackey, causing an outraged Tony to think "Lackey!" to himself.
  • In Spirou and Fantasio: Throughout his story, it happened to Spirou more than once because of his bellboy uniform, that he kept long after stopping working as one. Other people tended to either ask him to carry their luggage when they spotted Spirou into a hotel lounge, to press the lift button if they shared the same cage, or thought that the friends he was with had a servant in livery. A 80's short story even lampshade this, as Spirou is dragged by the doorman into a luxury hotel on Christmas 's night, while he happened to go by. The doorman mistook him for a local staff member, and since then, Spirou prefer to wear either a customized version of the uniform or civilian clothes (albeit the most often in red).
  • In Wonder Woman Plus Jesse Quick, Jesse has a meeting with a museum director and someone Jesse assumes is the director's secretary. A fight breaks out in the street. As Jesse runs outside at superspeed, she realizes A) the secretary is keeping up with her, B) the secretary is ripping off her clothes to reveal a Wonder Woman outfit, and C) "Oh god, I was about to ask her for a cup of coffee!"
  • Victor Mancha from Runaways runs into this a few times; namely, the Super Skrull Xavin often refers to him as the 'house android' due to androids' status in his own culture.
  • In an issue of Zatanna (2010), Zatanna arrives at her hotel room after an exhausting show she finds that her cousin, Zatarra, is throwing a wild party filled with people she does not know. When several women mistake her for a waitress due to her stage attire and ask for their drinks Zatanna, already extremely frustrated, turns them into birds and has them fly away.

    Comic Strips 
  • In Alex, the title character and his American boss Cyrus are invited to a grouse shoot, for which Cyrus buys a brand new set of tweeds to wear (having never been to one), despite repeated warnings to get a used set instead. At the shoot, Cyrus gets tipped by another guest, who believed he was the gardener breaking in the new tweeds for the lord of the house, as is normal in high society. The tipper is acutely embarassed when informed, but due to the Values Dissonance, Cyrus has no idea of the insult or why he has been given the money.
  • In Candorville, Lemont (in that arc, a speaker for the literary conference being held for his new book release, the other speaker being Stephen King) is given the keys to an obnoxious woman's expensive car, is insulted by her for being a sub-par valet, and turns the keys in to the hotel Lost and Found (getting sympathy from the Lost and Found director). Thanks to the lady's inability to tell the difference between a black man and a Hispanic or possibly Middle-Eastern man (and according to Lemont, thanks to karma), she reports the wrong name, race, and height in the complaint to the hotel and buys three hundred copies of his book for her literature club.
  • Modern work in which race is a factor: In Dykes to Watch Out For, Clarice and Toni (African American and Latina, respectively) are looking to buy a house in the suburbs (much to Clarice's chagrin). They bring their son Raffi (Toni's biological son) to check out a particular neighborhood, and while having lunch at a park a woman comes up to Clarice asking her if she's one of the new nannies in the neighborhood. Clarice of course is quite offended, and tells her off for assuming that just because she's black she must be hired help, while the woman tries to explain that she assumed so only because "he's obviously not yours".

    Fan Works 
  • When Weiss sees Blake and her family for the first time in Camellias, Weiss assumes that they're her future husband's servants because they're faunus. Little does she know that Blake is her future "husband".
  • In the Ben 10 fanfic Egypt on Anur Khufos, Ben's family is initially mistaken by the resistance as his servants, given that Ben just so happens to fit The Prophecy they'd looked up to. Later, Ben weaponizes this trope using his own mummy form in order to sneak into the pharaoh's bedroom.
  • Sakura's mother, Barako, mistakes Danzo for a washed-up secretary in First Try Series and tries to have his family run out of town when he refuses to comply. This is Danzo, who she's messing with.
  • Real Folk Blues: A Peni Parker – Spider-Man Noir Story: Gwen Stacy initially assumes Peni to be a maid, telling Peter he's shocked that his family can afford one before noting that she looks a bit young for the job. Peter angrily informs her that Peni is his half-sister and silently communicates she should keep any comments about Peni's Asian appearance to herself. Peni finds the entire exchange hilarious.
    For the record, this whole situation may have been deeply uncomfortable, but the expression on Gwen’s face after that was so worth it. Absolutely priceless.
  • Sixes and Sevens: Emily is briefly assumed to be Michael's secretary by Pat Mason and Mark Todd, until she clarifies that her "specialized skills" include assitance, chauffeuring, close-quarters combat, and marksmanship.

    Film — Live-Action 
  • In Air America, Senator Davenport arrives in Vietnam. On the airfield, he hands his suitcase to General Lu Soong, mistaking the general for a servant.
  • Botched: On meeting the well-dressed Anna in the elevator and learning she works for the media company, Dimitry assumes she is a secretary, only to be told a few moments later that she is a junior vice-president. Cue Verbal Backspace.
  • In Bringing Down the House, the Gold Digger mistakes Queen Latifah's character for a waitress at the club. Not a good idea...
  • In Chairman of the Board, Edison reports to the boardroom of McMillan Industries for his first day of his new job there. As soon as he gets there, the old men who make up the company's board of directors immediately mistake him for a gofer (understandable, given that Edison is dressed casually and is played by Carrot Top) and give him a bunch of orders for coffee, tea, muffins, doughnuts, etc. It's only when Edison brings back all of what they'd asked for that they learn who he really is: when Mr. McMillan had recently died, he bequeathed Edison all of his stock in McMillan Industries, making him the new chairman.
  • In The Choice, the hero races to the heroine's childhood home to plead his case to her. He's admitted by the butler and spends a few minutes chatting with him and the cook before spotting her returning from her riding lesson with her parents. He asks them for her hand in marriage, only for them to reveal that they are the riding instructors and that the "butler" and "chef" are her parents. Unusually for this trope, he's been perfectly polite to them, likely earning him points.
  • In Confessions of a Shopaholic Becky Bloomwood is mistaken for a waitress at an important dinner. In the catering manager's defense, her black-and-white dress looks exactly like what the waitresses are wearing.
  • The Con is On: When Irina comes to the club looking for Harry, one of the gamblers mistakes her for a waitress and asks her to fetch a round of drinks. She slits his throat.
  • In Doctor Strange, after being led into the presence of "The Ancient One," Strange keeps thanking the older man in robes, while receiving tea from younger-looking woman in yellow. As the robed man leaves, Strange voice trails off, "Thank you Ancient One, for seeing me." Just then, the tea server says, "You're very welcome." Cue astonished look on Strange's face.
  • The Girl from Missouri: A drunken party guest gives T.R. Paige a dish full of cocktails, which causes Eadie to mistake him for a waiter. Paige plays along.
  • Happens twice to Taye Diggs in Go because he's a black man wearing a gold blazer. First a man in the bathroom tips him for handing him a paper towel, and then a man tosses him the keys to his Ferrari, mistaking him for a valet. At this second incident, Diggs has had enough and takes a joyride in the sports car as revenge.
  • Exploited in A Hard Day's Night. As Paul's Grandfather is gambling at the Le Cercle club, he runs out of money. So he writes a "tab" on a piece of paper, puts on a plate, and he places a napkin on his arm and walks over to a patron, who "pays" him. He then uses the money to get back in the game.
  • James Bond
  • In Johnny English, the protagonist not only mistakes French prison entrepreneur (and Big Bad) Pascal Sauvage for a waiter but proceeds to make a bunch of disparaging remarks about the French right in front of him. However, he seems to take it in stride:
    Pascal Sauvage: [to English] Pascal Sauvage. The jumped-up Frenchman. [...] Of course, you are Johnny English. I've heard all about you. And between you and me, I'm not so keen on the French myself.
  • In Kingdom of Heaven, Imad, one of the advisers to Saladin, invokes this to some extent, presenting himself as the servant of a cavalier. If one watches carefully, though the dynamic is clearly intended to suggest this relationship, Imad never actually says he's the other man's servant; he simply lets Balian assume as much.
  • In the opening scene of the film M*A*S*H, Hawkeye notices that the zipper on his bag is busted, and uses his rank insignia to pin it closed while waiting on his driver. Duke shows up, sees Hawkeye without insignia, and tells 'the driver' to hop to it. Hawkeye goes with it, effectively stealing the jeep, and doesn't bother correcting Duke until they are eating lunch at the 4077th and are introduced to Col. Blake.
  • Max Manus. Max assumes the attractive woman in a refugee center is the Sexy Secretary when she's actually his boss. After giving him an earful, she in turn is surprised to find he's the famous resistance fighter Max Manus.
  • In Men in Black 3 when Agent J arrives in 1969, he is able to steal a car from a guest arriving at a hotel, posing as the hotel's valet.
  • In the 1995 live-action Mortal Kombat movie, Johnny Cage thought Liu Kang was simply a bag boy (or possibly a loitering nobody who wouldn't mind earning a few extra bucks) and foisted his excessive luggage on him. Liu Kang retaliates by taking the money and immediately dumping the luggage into the water.
    Cage: Huh. Thank God I didn't ask him to park the car.
  • Once Upon a Spy: When secret agent Paige Tannehill arrives at the computer lab to collect Jack Chenault, he assumes she is one of the staff delivering the Allen wrenches he asked for. He is very irritated when she says she doesn't have them, and it takes her some time to get him to listen long enough to explain why she is actually there.
  • The Return of the Pink Panther: Clouseau walks into a hotel, where a man asks to take his hat, coat, and bag - and promptly leaves with them.
  • In Slumdog Millionaire, Jamal is standing under a waiting spot for tours of the Taj Mahal when a German couple, assuming he is a tour guide, ask for a tour. Jamal initially tries to tell them that he is not a worker there, but when the woman offers money for his services, he decides to play along. He makes up a wildly inaccurate backstory for the Taj Mahal, but luckily for him, the couple are apparently completely ignorant about the landmark.

  • Alice in Wonderland had the titular girl being mistaken by the White Rabbit for his maid Mary-Ann, allowing her to get into more trouble.
  • In The Babysitters Club, Mallory's black friend Jessi was mistaken by Mal's little sister for a maid. Turned into an Aesop when Mal explains that the only time her sister had seen black people in their predominantly white neighborhood was when a cleaning service sent two black ladies to the house.
  • In a short story by Diana Wynne Jones that takes place in the Chrestomanci universe, the protagonist and her mother are let in by a plain (to them) woman in fancy attire, and the protagonist's mother whispers that she's "rather extravagantly-dressed for a servant." At the end of the story, the mother is too embarrassed to speak because the woman was Chrestomanci's wife.
  • In Circle of Magic, Tris is mistaken for a servant and is briefly annoyed before looking down at her nice but plain and sensible dress and understanding why someone might mistake her for a lady's maid.
  • In a short story in Len Deighton's Declarations of War, a travelling salesman stops at a garage to fill up with petrol. He recognises the man he thinks is the mechanic from their army days when they served together and is quite patronising towards him. He drives off, never realising that the 'mechanic' was actually the local lord who used the facilities at garage to tune his own car as part of the rent arrangements with the owner.
  • G. K. Chesterton uses this in at least two of his Father Brown detective stories. In The Queer Feet the thief deliberately uses the fourth version of the trope as a way to hide in plain sight, the guests think he's a waiter, the waiters think he's a guest. In The Strange Crime of John Bulnois the title character takes advantage of the second version to get out of a party he doesn't wish to attend.
  • In the book Golondrina de Invierno ("Winter Sparrow"), the male lead is mistaken by the main female as the manager of his huge country estate.
  • Interestingly played with in The Good Earth, as Wang Lung, a rich land owner who still works in the fields himself, realizes that other people would probably think he is his son's servant if seen side by side, as the son doesn't work himself and is well-dressed. Coupled with the fact that the son is starting to get rebellious, it kind of ticks Wang Lung off.
  • Head On: When Chris Shane arrives at the stadium skybox, one of the investors immediately assumes that since Chris is in a threep, Chris is one of the caterers and should get the investor a refill. (For bonus irony points, the whole reason for the skybox is to flatter Chris' dad into investing in a Hilketa team.)
  • Happens to Wilf Brim in the sixth book of The Helmsman Saga. He is later introduced officially to the woman who made the mistake. Fortunately, they both take it in good humor.
  • In one of the Just William books, William develops a crush on an actress appearing in pantomime at a theatre near him, and sneaks into her hotel to try and meet her. Hilarity Ensues, including his being mistaken for a laundry delivery boy.
  • In Lodestar, Brittany van Huyten mentions, while reminiscing about Harriet at her funeral, that she once mistook her for a servant when she found her working in the garden.
  • In The Mountains of Mourning, Harra first sees Miles when he's just returning from a swim, wearing only his trunks and leg braces, and she clearly doesn't know who he is. Miles entertains the thought that she might think that he's the court jester.
  • Perry Rhodan is Mistaken For Engineer at least once. Being an all-around nice guy, the benevolent immortal nigh-god emperor of all humanity ends up repairing a snooty cadet's spaceship.
  • In The Screaming Staircase, when John Fairfax pairs a visit to Lockwood and Co ghost-hunting agency, Lockwood asks for some tea and Fairfax, seeing George, agrees to it, saying to tell "your boy" to bring the sugar too. Lockwood plays along at it at first, but when George gets back and doesn't leave, Faifax tells Lockwood that his "office help" should wait outside. Lockwood then explains that George (who is rather overweight and slovenly) is not, in fact, "office help," but rather an agent.
  • In Septimus Heap, the Guardian of the House Of Foryx mistakes Beetle for being Jenna's servant in Queste, causing a rebuff by Jenna.
  • Reversed in S. P. Somtow's The Shattered Horse in which the playmate and servant of the child Astyanax is mistaken for the young heir to the throne of Troy and tossed over the wall to his death; in the novel Astyanax himself survives to adulthood.
  • George R. R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire
    • Ramsay Snow deliberately impersonates his dead Igor, Reek, to avoid Starks' justice and later escape captivity from Theon Greyjoy. This ends badly for Theon, whom Ramsay captures and breaks into becoming a replacement Reek.
    • When Jon Snow becomes Lord Commander of the Night's Watch and has to meet a queen well known for her superior attitude, he makes sure to be accompanied by several underlings, otherwise she might "mistake him for the stableboy and hand him the reins of her horse." Admittedly Jon is rather young to be a Lord Commander. It works, too. Instead of mistaking him for the stableboy, she mistakes him for a junior officer sent to escort her to the Lord Commander.
    • According to her long-suffering mother Lady Stark, her daughter Arya would often be mistaken for a stableboy because she is a Tomboy Princess. However this comes in useful when she's forced to go on the run disguised as a commoner.
  • Winter Celchu, Princess Leia's personal servant and childhood best friend from Star Wars Legends was often mistaken for Leia herself (and vice versa) because she had a regal air about her that the more tomboyish Leia lacked.
  • Tales of Dunk and Egg: In the novella "The Hedge Knight", Dunk is confused with a stableboy by a pompous prince. And that bald kid that Dunk thinks is a runaway stableboy? Turns out to be said pompous prince's little brother.
  • Tales of the Frog Princess: The Dragon Princess - Lord Eduardo mistakes Princess Millie's cousin Lord Francis and her best friend, Princess Zoe, for her servants because of their simple traveling clothes. The next morning, Ed still doesn't believe that Zoe is a princess, and, though her father really is a prince, Zoe doesn't dare mention that she's Princess of the Vampires. Eduardo insults her. This infuriates Francis.
  • Combined with Younger Than They Look in Teacher Trouble by Alexander McCall Smith, in which a girl starting at a new school is mistaken for a teacher and put in charge of a class.
  • In Unseen Academicals, Glenda thinks that Lady Margolotta's librarian is Lady Margolotta and vice versa, so while she doesn't ask the "servant" to do anything for her, she does end up angrily complaining about the way Margolotta has treated Nutt and only afterwards realizes that she might not have been talking to the librarian after all.
  • Over the course of the Village Tales series, Teddy Gates, the sweet, ditzy Celebrated Hipsta Chef, has thrown only a few people out of his gastropub-hotel. One was a homophobic rapper (whose money he refunded by tossing banknotes into the breeze and watching as the rapper's entourage scrambled for them). The other two were two (Continental) Members of the European Parliament who saw three men in whites by the door and imperiously ordered them to take the MEPs' bags and make it snappy: the three being Rector, the Nawab of Hubli, and the Duke of Taunton, fresh off the cricket pitch. The Rector being the Rector, he started to do so without a qualm, forcing His Highness and His Grace to do likewise: until the two MEPs began complaining, in French, of sloppy British workers, and especially that "lascar." The Duke being an Omniglot and the Nawab having done French at Eton, an Actually, I Am Him reveal follows, and Teddy arrives on the scene just in time to go ballistic. (The Duke begs him not to give the two in charge: he'd rather the Home Secretary bar them from the UK than have them hanging about on police bail.)
  • In The Whipping Boy, the titular boy - who, unlike the spoiled prince, had learned to read and write (The Prince shirked his duties) and is so well-behaved that the highwayman who took the two thought the clueless prince was the servant.
  • It's mentioned in Wicked that Munchkinlander students are often mistaken for servants at Shiz due to their drab fashion sense.
  • A variant is referenced in several P. G. Wodehouse stories where someone visiting a stately home meets the proprietor wandering about the gardens in his casual clothes and assumes him to be the gardener. Hilarity invariably ensues. In the novel A Damsel in Distress, this happens to Lord Marshmoreton every six months or so; he finds it funny and tends to play along, to the extent of putting on a rustic accent.
  • Xanth:
    • The Magician Humphrey was mistaken for an assistant by one of the supplicants—it doesn't help that by then he looks like a shrunken gnome, and he plays along for a good while.
    • King Roogna from the same series, whose talent was manipulating the magic of living things. In the middle of preparing for a battle, the protagonist came across a man in old clothes messing around with a cherry tree (he was turning them into cherry bombs), and assumed he was a gardener...

    Live-Action TV 
  • In 3rd Rock from the Sun Harry is taken for an employee at a hardware store (a Home Depot Expy) because of his orange shirt. Hilarity ensues. At the end we see he hasn't learned his lesson when he is wearing what looks like a referee's shirt and says he going shopping for sneakers at Foot Locker (where the employees dress like referees).
  • In an episode of Angel, an old man steals Angel's body; when Gunn arrives to the office with burritos, he mistakes Gunn for the delivery boy and leaves a tip. Fortunately, Gunn interprets that as Angel paying for the bill (and letting him keep the change), and doesn't make an issue of it.
  • Arrested Development: Lucille is at a party for the Desi awards (given to the stars of Spanish telenovelas), where most of the attendees are Latino. She complains, "A sea of waiters, and no one will take a drink order!"
  • It happens at least four times on The Beverly Hillbillies. Always, it's because of the hillbillies' backwoods clothes and mannerisms:
    • In the second episode, "Getting Settled", Mr. Drysdale's secretary Miss Hathaway concludes they're the Clampett's servants (that is, their own servants). She even tries to fire them!
    • In the second season episode "Cabin in Beverly Hills", a sociology major and her professor think the Clampetts are downtrodden servants of the Drysdales.
    • In the third season episode "The Boarder", Mrs. Drysdale hires a new butler (played by Arthur Treacher). Unfortunately, he arrives at the Clampett house by mistake and thinks that they're the Drysdale's servants.
    • In the fourth season episode "The Richest Woman", the eponymous character thinks Jed Clampett is merely a worker.
  • In the (unsold) pilot for the TV spinoff of Blazing Saddles, called "Black Bart," Bart, played by Lou Gossett, was sweeping the front of the jailhouse, just in his undershirt and pants, when a gun salesman comes up and tells him, "Boy, go fetch the sheriff." (It was that type of show.) Cue Big Gulp when Bart goes in and comes back out in full outfit, complete with Sheriff's badge.
  • On an episode of The Bold and the Beautiful, several characters are hanging out at the local bar when one of them asks another to get her a drink. Imagine her shock when she's informed that she's one of her coworkers, not a waitress at the bar.
  • Gus Fring from Breaking Bad is introduced this way. After Saul sets things up, Walt and Jesse go to a Los Pollos Hermanos restaurant where a potential distributor is going to meet with them to buy 38 pounds of meth from them. They sit around for a while, but no one shows up apart from the restaurant manager asking if the food is OK. Walt learns from Saul that their man was there, watching them, and is no longer interested. So Walt goes back to the restaurant and waits around most of the day and evening. Walt eventually puts two and two together that the friendly manager at the restaurant is the distributor and approaches Gus.
    • Better Call Saul repeats this when Mike sends Jimmy into the restaurant to spy on a bag man who planted a tracker on Mike's car, and determine where the man's knapsack is going. He eventually gets caught by Gus searching the trash can, which he escapes by claiming to be looking for a lost watch.
  • Carnival Row: Agreus repeatedly endures this as a guest of Imogen, since many Fauns are employed by rich humans (including the Spurnroses' housekeeper).
  • Happens in an episode of Curb Your Enthusiasm. Larry was driving, and sees a black man in a suit standing on the curb. Larry assumes he's a valet and tries to hand him his keys, which obviously offends him. Larry's horrified at his mistake and tries to apologize, but the man tells him off and walks away. And Wanda Sykes happened to see the whole thing.
  • In an episode of Da Ali G Show, the eponymous character introduces Jarvis Cocker as his next guest. When Cocker walks onto the set, Ali tells him to leave since the cleaners are supposed to wait until the show is over.
  • The Day of the Roses begins with a Justice Department agent sent to lean on Coroner Tom Weir arriving at Weir's office. He asks a guy in casual businesswear where Weir's office is. After pointing it out, the man asks the agent for help with the (literal) truckloads of paperwork he's carting in, only the the agent to tell him to "get stuffed." It's only when he reaches the office that the guy turns out to be Weir.
  • Death in Paradise: In "Switcharoo", Inspector Parker makes a poor first impression on the Commissioner when he jumps into what he thinks is his taxi and asks the driver to take him to the airport, only to discover that he has jumped into the Commissioner's car and is talking to the Commissioner.
  • On A Different World, Whitley goes barging into Dwayne and Ron's apartment, completely ignoring the woman who is cleaning the place. When she's unable to find Dwayne, she asks the woman to tell him that she was there and compliments her on the cleaning job, telling her that it about time the boys hired a housekeeper. The woman says, "Oh, so YOU'RE the Whitley Dwayne keeps talking about?" Whitley asks how she knew that. "Because Dwayne tells his MOTHER everything." Cue the Oh, Crap! look on Whitley's face and her pitiful attempts to apologize before having the door slammed in her face.
    • Whitley does this again with fiancé Byron's mother, mistaking her for the wedding coordinator. This time, the woman laughs it off.
  • In the Doctor Who story "The Talons of Weng-Chiang", theatre manager Henry Gordon Jago mistakes pathologist George Litefoot for a servant when they first meet. In this case, the misunderstanding arises because Jago arrives at Litefoot's house and sees him with a dustpan and brush in his hands. However, Litefoot is quick to correct him.
    Consider yourself announced, sir. I'm Litefoot.
  • In Downton Abbey, Lord Grantham was once mistaken for a footman by his own mother the Dowager Countess. Granted, she had initially seen him out of the corner of her eye and he was wearing the wrong evening clothes because of an ironing mishap.
  • In The Fast Show TV spinoff movie Ted And Ralph, Ralph takes his groundskeeper Ted to a fancy party; while everyone assumes Ted is a landed gentleman, Ralph is taken for a waiter, and is too shy to correct anyone on this point.
  • Occurs off-screen in one of the CeeBee Awards episodes of Frasier: Niles has been nominated for a technical award, which turns out not to be in the same glitzy area as the presenter awards, but in a small room down the corridor. When he gets back, he reports that he was the only person there wearing a tuxedo, and had to keep explaining he wasn't the waiter.
  • The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air had an Inverted racial version when an aunt and her new husband came to visit at the Banks' mansion — the family assumed the white man carrying in luggage was a taxi driver or somesuch, and tried to tip him and shoo him away, instead welcoming in the (black) driver with open arms, leading to a very awkward long pause when the real couple embraced and they realized their mistake.
    • Their valet Geoffrey pulls another when a (black) neighbour woman drops by and asks him for cleaning tips. He assumes she is a maid and a budding (and reciprocated) romance springs up. Until it turns out she's actually a wealthy and high-status socialite who is just humble enough to want to clean up her own mess.
  • On General Hospital, as uber Rich Bitch Tracy's barges into a family business meeting after several years away from home, she snaps orders at the two people who she doesn't recognize, mistaking her new daughter-in-law for a secretary, and her father's newly discovered illegitimate grandson (therefore, her nephew), for the butler, even though he's wearing a suit, not a uniform. What's especially bad about this is that the man is black and her reaction upon being told who he is makes it quite clear that his race is the main reason she assumed he was a servant.
  • Hustle:
    • In one episode, Mickey approaches a mark and is told to bring the man a drink. He quickly corrects the assumption.
    • On another occasion Mickey just wanders off with the credit card he was handed after being mistaken for a waiter (after confirming that the man was an unpleasant person and the kind of target he likes to con anyway).
  • Joey: In "Joey and the Fancy Sister", Joey's sister Mary-Theresa comes to visit and mistakes Alex for a Hispanic maid. Alex is conflict-avoidant enough that she goes along with it, doing her laundry and pretending that she only speaks Spanish.
  • Nina on Just Shoot Me! once gave the Chinese Minister of Culture her room key. "I can't help it if the entire nation dresses like bellboys!"
    • In another, Elliot mistakes a client for a delivery boy. Coincidentally he is also Chinese (or possibly Chinese American).
  • Hyacinth does this at least twice to the owners of the stately homes she likes to visit on Keeping Up Appearances.
  • The Last Man on Earth: In a pre-outbreak flashback set in a drug-lord's mansion, soldiers of a rival gang approach the house, guns drawn, and gallantly tell the elderly gardener lady to stay quiet. Once they're in the house, the lady follows them in and shoots them all. They didn't know the drug-lord was a woman, of course.
  • In an episode of Law & Order, the detectives went to an airport to talk to the girlfriend of a victim. The girlfriend promptly saw the Hispanic detective and started handing him her luggage.
  • Done deliberately in the Leverage episode "The Low Low Price Job". Sophie sends in her acting troupe dressed in the same shirts and pants as employees of Value-Mart, with instructions to ignore the customers, in an attempt to ruin the store's reputation.
  • On an episode of Mad About You, Paul and Jamie go to a wedding and Paul gets mistaken for a busboy by the banquet manager.
  • In the Midsomer Murders episode "Market for Murder", Troy meets the local lord while he is up a ladder tending to some peeling wallpaper and assumes he is the handyman.
  • In The Muppets (2015) episode "Got Silk?", Miss Piggy joins Janice's aerial silks class to make friends, and then asks the first person she sees to bring her some water and tries to tip her. It goes downhill from there.
  • In a Murphy Brown episode, Murphy starts dating a much younger man. When he shows up at FYI with flowers, the rest of the team mistakes him for a delivery man sent by Murphy's "new boyfriend" (Jim even tips him) and keep chatting away with speculation as to what said boyfriend is like. By the time Murphy arrives to introduce him, Corky is already whispering to Frank "Why is the delivery boy still here?"
  • The Outer Limits (1995): In "The Grell", Lt. Lockhart mistakes High Secretary Paul Kohler for an escaped Grell slave turned rebel as being exposed to Grell blood has altered his DNA so that he is turning into a Grell. Kohler's attempt to convince Lockhart that he is the Minister of Mineral Resources falls on deaf ears. His apparent status as a Half-Human Hybrid disgusts Lockhart all the more. He forces Kohler to dig graves for his fallen comrades who were killed by the rebels and then tries to lynch him. Kohler manages to escape but the experience gives him significant insight into what it means to be a Grell.
  • In Scrubs, this trope was shown to be the reason Marco (Carla's little brother) hates Turk, as Turk had mistaken him for a valet at a funeral when they first met, and Turk was kind of a dick to him when he thought he was a valet too.
  • Played with in a episode of Seinfeld in which Elaine allows herself to be mistaken for a building janitor because she's hiding out there in order to have Chinese food delivered.
    • Happened in another episode, where Jerry was mistaken for a drugstore employee by Elaine's elderly boss Mr. Pitt, with disastrous results.
  • In Seven Days, Parker was mistaken for a butler by the princess. Insulted, he took her glass and threw it away.
  • Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's The Lost World: In "Camelot", the group encounters a kingdom out of the Middle Ages. While they treat Roxton as a knight and respect him, they see Malone as his squire and snub him. For example, when the two are ordered to hunt a T-Rex, Roxton is given a sword, but they refuse to give Malone one, saying squires don't get swords. Malone gets really annoyed by this.
  • The Spy: Eli Cohen is mistaken for a waiter at the house party of his wife's wealthy boss. This helps motivate him to take risks to achieve something great with his life, leading him to become a secret agent.
  • In the episode "Hollywood Babylon" of Supernatural, Dean Winchester is mistaken for a production assistant while on a movie set. When Dean asks Sam what a PA is, Sam replies, "I think they're like slaves."
  • Tales from the Crypt: In "Cutting Cards", the tourist who tries to drive into the parking lot where Reno and Sam are staging their Russian Roulette showdown thinks Reno is a parking valet.
  • On a Thanksgiving Episode of That '70s Show, Eric's grandpa mistakes Fez for a servant.
  • In Ugly Betty, Betty is about to meet her boyfriend's mother for the first time. Things get off to a bad start, however, when the mother thinks she's there to interview for a maid job.
  • Such an instance happens in The Wire. Cedric Daniels and his wife attend a fundraiser. Cedric goes to the kitchen, where the chauffeurs are conversing and watching a baseball game. They mistake him for a fellow driver. Day-Day, Senator Davis' driver, openly fantasizes about robbing the house.
    Day-Day: Damien Price. But I usually go by Day-Day.
    Cedric Daniels: Cedric Daniels, but I usually go by Lieutenant.
  • Young Sheldon: In "A Free Scratcher and Feminine Wiles", President Hagemeyer explains that during her first month as president, everyone thought she was the president's secretary. In response to this, she told them that the president was too busy to see them, and then cut their funding.

  • Our Miss Brooks: In "Marriage Madness", Mrs. Davis pretends to be Miss Brooks' maid. Mrs. Davis wants to test her fiancé to see if he wants to marry her for the Davis money. The man's a con artist. He does only want to marry Mrs. Davis for her money.
  • In a BBC Radio 2 Pause for Thought about not judging on appearances, Rev Alan Sorenson describes chatting to a gardener at a stately home, only to realise he was actually talking to the Earl.

  • Rossini's Opera Cinderella has the prince and his valet trading places to invoke this trope intentionally. The prince uses it as an opportunity to learn the real character behind the women vying for his hand. The valet uses it to... eat as much fancy food and talk to as many pretty girls as possible, as well as relishing in the fact that the prince has to bow to him.
  • In Miss Saigon, as Kim arrives at Chris' hotel room, Chris' wife Ellen absently tells her, "don't turn the bed yet". Kim informs her that she's not the maid. It's one of the few racially-based examples that doesn't have Unfortunate Implications—they're in an Asian country and it's a reasonable assumption on Ellen's part.
  • Farces obviously get plenty of mileage out of this. Move Over Mrs Markham, for example, builds up, through completely logical reasons, to two members of the household having to swap identities with their staff.
  • In Of Thee I Sing, when Wintergreen is being received in the Smoky Gentlemen's Club as the National Campaign Committee's presidential nominee, he mistakes vice-presidential nominee Throttlebottom for a waiter, and snatches away the drink Throttlebottom has poured for himself. "And get me one of those dill pickles, will you?"
  • In Once Upon a Mattress, Lady Larken mistakes Princess Winnifred for the new maid. Fred plays along, up until Sir Harry shows up and addresses her as "Your Majesty", much to Larken's horror.
  • The heroine of the famous 18th century comedy She Stoops To Conquer deliberately exploits this trope, letting the man she may be required to marry mistake her for a barmaid in order to find out more about him, having discovered that he is nervous and clumsy around women of his own class. As he is much more relaxed around lower-class women, this works, although he treats her in a somewhat bawdy fashion. Fortunately, she likes him anyway.
  • The obscure Renaissance play Thomas of Woodstock has a scene in which the title character (who is Duke of Gloucester, and the king's uncle) is mistaken for a servant by an overdressed courtly messenger, because of his plain clothing. When the truth is revealed, the Duke insists the courtier pay him the sixpence he offered for walking his horse, remarking that it's the first honest work he's done in forty years.

    Urban Legends 
  • A common story of this type is a rich, older white woman who stops at the yard of a house and sees a man (usually black or Latino) doing some yard work. She ask him how much he's paid. The man, being insulted and rather clever, answers that the lady of the house lets him sleep with her; the lady being, naturally, the man's wife. Some versions make the man a celebrity to further underscore the absurdity of the assumption.
    • The point of the story is to teach a lesson about racism and jumping to conclusions. There are, however, some versions featuring a white man. In these cases, the joke centers on the man (naturally) wearing old clothes to do the yard work.
  • One recurring variety of urban legend involves somebody going to an expensive hotel and encountering a black man in a suit, who the person assumes to be a bellhop. It's only when the man leaves in a limousine (usually driven by a white chauffeur) that the recent arrival realizes their mistake, often with the added reveal that the black man was a famous person they somehow failed to recognize.

    Video Games 
  • In Baldur's Gate, you can obtain the golden pantaloons from a noble at the Friendly Arm Inn who mistakes you for the maid. Maybe the real maids wear armor and carry swords, too.
  • Early on in BoxxyQuest: The Gathering Storm, there’s a bit where Catie’s partner and de-facto bodyguard, Anonymous, is referred to as her “manservant” by an NPC, much to his bafflement and annoyance.
  • In Dragon Age: Origins, city elves can be mistaken for labor workers in Ostagar. Can be a bit sad, since back home in the Alienage neighbors of yours were being evicted and forced to work there. We don't assume they're treated very nicely.
    • The quartermaster will mistake any elf for a servant. Even if the elf is wearing face markings that designate him/her as one of the elves who swore never again to submit to human authority, or, more interestingly, wearing an outfit and a weapon that suggest that he/she is a mage. He backs down fairly quickly though, and seems incredibly embarrassed once he realizes his mistake.
    • In Dragon Age II's Mark of the Assassin DLC, Fenris is mistaken for a manservant if you take him along to the party. Needless to say, he's not happy.
    • In Dragon Age: Inquisition: All non-human Inquisitors are initially mistaken for some kind of hired help by the quartermaster early in the game: an elf is mistaken for a servant, dwarf for a lyrium dealer, and Qunari for a mercenary. Though for what it's worth, the Qunari Inquisitor is a mercenary and the dwarf was part of the illegal lyrium trade, but by that point in the game, they're the Herald of Andraste.
  • An odd example occurs in Fire Emblem: Path of Radiance. Ike is consoling Jill after the death of her father, when a Daein woman from the region approaches them. She recognizes Jill as Shiharam's daughter, and assumes that Ike is her bodyguard. The woman immediately starts praising Jill's father and remarking about how cruel and heartless it was for the Crimean Army -which Ike is the general of- to kill him, leading to a very sad (and awkward) moment for Jill and Ike.
    • Ike seems to be a magnet for these. Much earlier in the game, while he's running errands for the Apostle, a maid mistakes him for hired help and starts chatting him up, telling him about the "sub-humans" (a racist term for the Laguz and clearly, though he doesn't say or do anything, earning his ire. An older maid comes along, recognizes Ike as Princess Elincia's bodyguard and escort, and proceeds to chew out the younger maid who wonders if she's going to get sacked.
  • In Knights of the Old Republic, a visit to one of the cantinas on Taris can result in you being mistaken for a waiter by one of the richer customers. Again, she appears not to notice that you're also holding a deadly weapon; however, trying to explain the situation (even politely) results in the noblewoman storming out of the cantina in a huff, and reappearing close to the entrance with two armed thugs.
    • The worst part? She runs away and isn't a valid target, so it's impossible to kill her. ...She started it.
  • In Overlord II, you and your minions are mistaken for a group of escaped slaves at the beginning of the third act, and you're constantly harassed by guards, civilians, and even actual slaves who continue to call you one. Being an Evil Overlord, you can decide if you want to remedy this situation with violence or mind control and suffer zero negative consequences for it.
  • A dramatic example in Prince of Persia: Warrior Within. Early on, the Prince stumbles upon Shahdee attempting to kill a woman named Kaileena, kills the former, and assumes the latter is a servant of the Empress of Time. Turns out Kaileena is the Empress, and Shahdee was in the middle of a The Dog Bites Back moment when the Prince intervened.

  • While not actually used in story, this trope was invoked in Gunnerkrigg Court when Coyote and Ysengrin were introduced. Ysengrin is tall and imposing while Coyote follows quietly at his feet, and rather than taking interest in the diplomatic negotiations between the Court and Gillitie Forest he instead begins to casually chat with Antimony. Only when this happens, it becomes clear to the readers (and Antimony) that Coyote is literally the top dog.
  • Ménage à 3 provides the page image. When Gary and Isabelle bring a drunken Zii home, Isabelle, who is a massive Zii fangirl (to the level that she wants people to call her "Izz") and thinks Zii's rock band is much more famous than it actually is, assumes that since Gary lives with her and isn't her boyfriend, he must be her butler. It doesn't help that Gary is an Extreme Doormat who immediately caves before her demands.
  • Split Screen: Jan meets her patron/mentor, Sergio, this way. He happens to be presenting a new fashion design to her class. She thinks he's just a substitute teacher or TA, and so feels free to crap on the design. She is horrified to find out he is practically Hugo Boss.
  • Wonderlab: In the first episode, Catt is mistaken for a lowly clerk by Parker, a new member of the Disciplinary Team. When Parker is attacked by an Abnormality called Dingle Dangle, Catt steps in and informs Parker that they are the captain of the Disciplinary Team right before singlehandedly suppressing Dingle Dangle.

    Web Original 

    Western Animation 
  • As Told by Ginger: Courtney thinks this of Sasha in the summer camp episode.
  • Big City Greens: In the episode "DIY Guys", the Greens go to a hardware store where Cricket is mistaken for an employee due to his overalls resembling their uniforms. He's put in charge of the forklift, and Hilarity Ensues.
  • Camp Lazlo: In the show's Origins Episode, Raj mistakes Clam for a baggage boy when they first meet.
  • In Danny Phantom, Frostbite and his people mistake Sam and Tucker as the titular ghost boy's servants. While they are both offended by this, Danny simply plays along.
  • On the first episode of Drawn Together, Princess Clara mistook Foxxy Love for a maid. Clara's father refers to Foxxy as a "servant girl" on seeing her.
  • DuckTales (1987): In "Till Nephews Do Us Part", Scrooge mistakes Millionaira Vanderbucks for a company president's secretary, not realizing that Millionaira is the president of the corporation (and the richest woman in the world to boot).
  • In an episode of Futurama, Fry was mistaken for a worker at the Past-o-rama theme park because of his ridiculously outdated clothing (although not as ridiculous as that of the guy making the mistake, who wore Renaissance attire at what is ostensibly a 20th century-themed park).
    • Earlier in the episode, Fry thought a mugger was part of the park.
  • Hey Arnold! has an example of this in an episode where the titular character finally tries to talk to Ruth MacDougal, a girl he had a crush on. He has arranged a meeting at a local restaurant in secret and when Ruth arrives and sits at the table to wait for her blind date to arrive, she mistakes the Busboy for her date and Arnold for the Busboy. Despite all of his attempts to correct the mistake, Ruth treats Arnold like a servant and talks to him dismissively throughout the episode until she and the Busboy leave to have fun elsewhere.
  • In King of the Hill, Hank tries to impress a potential customer by playing on the latter's stereotypes of Texas. He gets Peggy to dress up in a Kilgore Rangerette outfit, and they go to a Texas-themed restaurant. Naturally, Peggy turns out to be wearing the exact same outfit as the workers there, which gets her mistaken for a worker, even by the other workers.
    • Cotton also seems to think Kahn is Hank's servant, as whenever he visits he always tells Kahn to bring in his bags. However, Cotton was able to correctly identify Kahn as Laotian at first glance (Hank and the gang kept asking him if he was Chinese or Japanese even after he said he was from Laos).
    • This trope was inverted in the episode that introduces Kahn and his family. At first, Hank and the gang see two white men hauling furniture inside the house and think they're father and son. The gang tries to make nice with them until they explain that they're movers hired by the Asian family that's actually moving in.
  • In The Legend of Korra, Kya and Bumi are mistaken for servants at the Southern Air Temple due to their lack of airbending, much to their dismay.
  • The Loud House: In the episode ARGGH! You For Real?, Clyde and Lincoln are mistaken by a lady as members of the crew for the tv show ARGGH. They play along so they can enter the house and get a good view of the ghost hunting, but it’s because of this they are able to see what is really going on behind the scenes.
  • The title character of Rocko's Modern Life was once mistaken for a movie theater usher because his shirt is the same as their uniforms, and no one believed that he'd wear it because he liked it.
  • In Steven Universe, Peridot initially tries to order Pearl around on reflex, as Pearls on Homeworld are Beautiful Slave Girls.

    Real Life 
As trustworthy posters to the subreddit /r/IDontWorkHereLady can attest, some people are unfortunately stupid enough for this to be Truth in Television. Fortunately, they don't tend to be as stubborn as the sort of lunatics featured in the subreddit stories.

  • Improv Everywhere staged a hilarious version of this in a Best Buy when they had 80 people in blue polo shirts and khakis hang around inside (the actual Best Buy employees were not amused).
  • Any store with a specific shirt color or outfit combo (like Kinko's blue shirt and khakis or Pizza Hut's Red Polo) can cause inattentive shoppers to pester other shoppers who happened to be wearing the same color under the belief that they are workers.
    • Or indeed any shopper who spends a moment taking a close look at something on shelves.
    • Wandering around a supermarket wearing a suit could often lead to being mistaken for the store manager in the UK, though nowadays managers are issued a slightly fancier variation of the regular store uniform.
    • At a lot of clothing stores, the "uniform", as it were, tends to encourage workers to wear the brand. Woe betide shoppers who happen to be wearing clothing from that brand, or even clothing in a similar style.
    • It's even possible for this to happen if a shopper happens to be wearing a nametag (or even a novelty t-shirt with a humorous nametag printed on it), even when the clothes do not resemble the actual uniform in any way. Or just clothes that look like a uniform, even if it's not the store's actual uniform.
  • A woman mistook Karl Malone, a future Hall of Fame basketball player, for a skycap while he was waiting to pick up his brother at the Salt Lake City airport (he played for the Utah Jazz). Malone obligingly carried the woman's bags to her car and revealed himself only when she offered him a tip afterward.
  • A couple years ago the magazine Bust had an article written by a black woman in New York City whose biracial daughter has very fair skin, and how she deals with the assumptions that she must be the nanny. She acknowledged that in the area of Manhattan she lives in, there are a lot of black nannies out and about with white children so it's not entirely Unfortunate Implications, but she gradually learned how to handle that particular assumption.
  • Ruth Reichl recounts a time she was taken for kitchen staff in Tender at the Bone.
  • Walter Koenig was once mistaken for a bellhop at a hotel, when wearing his Starfleet uniform during a public appearance.
  • Apparently Lord Halifax, Britain's pre-WWII foreign minister, at a meeting with Hitler, got out of his car and handed the Führer his hat. Naturally, this is a mocked use of this trope.
  • Agent Cicero (real name Elyesa Bazna) was the Valet to the British Ambassador. And naturally valets would never give their master's secrets to the Germans...
  • Several stories on Not Always Right.
    • In most of those types of stories on that site and similar ones, the customer 'flips' when the other person refuses to help them, refuse to believe them, and then complain to the management (or even, in one case, to the management of the store where the person did in fact work at). These stories can get dark awfully quickly; here's an example of a case that escalated to violence directed at the "employee".
    • The "I Don't Work Here" tag catalogues all examples of this trope on the site. It's currently at just under 200 entries, and there are likely other examples floating around on the site that for whatever reason didn't get tagged as such.
  • This can happen a lot if you've just come off work or are on lunch break and in another store where the uniform is similar to yours. And sometimes not even then.
  • A man waiting for an interview as a salesman in an antique store was mistaken for an employee of that same store. Knowing he had ample time before his interview, the man started helping the customer. By the time the owner was ready for the interview, the man had sold $800 worth of antiques. He got the job.
  • At a Washington dinner, Valerie Jarrett, an adviser to Barack Obama, mistook General Peter Ciarelli, the second-most-senior General of the US Army for a waiter, since she wasn't wearing her glasses and could only see the stripes on his pants when he was standing next to her. Apparently the chestful of medals didn't register. The General, for his part, thought it was funny.
  • Richard A. Clark, who served as counterterrorism czar for Presidents Clinton and Bush Jr., recounts an unusual instance in his book Against All Enemies. On 9/11, Clark rushed to the White House and briefly talked to Condoleezza Rice, Dick Cheney, and Army Major Michael Fenzel. Those people went to the more protected Presidential Emergency Operations Center underneath the East Wing while Clark stayed to direct the Counterterrorism Security Group from the Secure Video Cenferencing Center in the West Wing. A bit later, Clark heard that Major Fenzel was trying to reach him from the PEOC and got on the phone. The first person who answered just grunted and passed the phone to Major Fenzel. Clark said, "Who is the asshole answering the phone for you, Mike?" "That would be the Vice President, Dick. And he'd like you to come over." Awkward because Clark knew Cheney quite well and had just been with him earlier, but failed to recognize him over the phone from only that wordless grunt.
  • There's an Urban Legend about former US Supreme Court justice Thurgood Marshall being mistaken for a gardener by a passerby when he was doing yard work outside his home.
  • The legendary Mexican singer and actor Pedro Vargas was confused for a servant by a butler for one of the richest families in Mexico during the 50s because of his skin color.note  Additionally, the family was spewing racist insults against him in English, thinking he was unable to understand the language.note  Unfortunately for them, the singer did understand English but decided not to call them out, not only out of respect for his hosts, but also to surprise them later when he told that story to the press.
  • Years after his retirement from the game, famous cricketer W.G. Grace was working in his garden when he heard two boys in the street having a conversation. One of them was telling the other that the legendary W.G. Grace lived on this street. His friend did not believe him. The first boy said "It's true! He lives in that house where the old gardener is sweeping up the leaves!".
  • Daniel Sickles, with his flamboyant dress, purportedly got James Buchanan mistaken for a doorman while acting as secretary to the latter while Buchanan was Minister the to UK.
  • In the nineteenth century, at a British dinner where many ambassadors were invited, the American one was the only one without a fancy ambassadorial uniform; he dressed like an ordinary gentleman. Another ambassador took him for a servant and asked him to call him a cab. The American retorted, "You, sir, are a cab. Be glad you didn't ask me to call you a hansom cab."
  • DJ Kenny Everett claimed to have exploited this trope in the 1960s when he was looking for a job at The BBC. Carrying a big reel of tape so he'd be mistaken for an engineer, he walked into Broadcasting House and went looking for an unoccupied office he could take over.
  • When British artist Stanley Spencer arrived in London to receive an award, he was mistaken for a porter by a gentleman who requested that he carry his bags. Spencer obliged him and later received the award from the same man he earlier helped.
  • During her brief career in WWE, Amy Zidian did not recognize Stephanie McMahon and Vickie Guerrero and rudely started bossing them around, thinking they were something like stage hands, makeup, or catering. When they explained who they were, she refused to apologize, so she was fired. Though it's likely that they fired her not because of the personal slight, but because if she was talking to them that way while thinking they were the staff, then how was she treating the actual staff?
  • King Frederick Augustus III of Saxony was once asked by a lady to move her trunk while standing in uniform on a station platform. He replied: "Madam, I am not a porter; I only look like one."
  • Rupauls Drag Race star Trixie Mattel may have a distinctive drag style that is Uncanny Valley Makeup incarnate, but as Brian Firkus, he looks like an extremely average young man. He recounted how a few of his fellow Season 7 queens initially mistook him for a studio intern and started bossing him around.
  • Professor Robert E. Kelly, an American living in South Korea, went viral with his family when he was giving an interview with the BBC from his home on the impeachment of President Park Geun-hye and got interrupted by his two young children wandering into his office, soon followed by their horrified mother rushing in and pulling them out. It's a cute funny video, but half the comments assumed the Korean woman was Kelly's nanny rather than his wife, even though both kids are clearly mixed-race. It's as if people didn't even consider that she could be his equal. After the video went viral, the family did several follow-up interviews clearing the air.
  • Mellody Hobson, now chair of the board of Dreamworks Animation, spoke in a TED Talk about how she and her coworker (both of whom are black) were mistaken for the kitchen help when going to a meeting.
  • This trope is the reason why Disney theme parks have a longstanding rule against adult guests wearing costumes on the premises. At best, young children might get confused at seeing multiple Cinderellas or the like. At worst, it could lead to abduction.
  • Prince Harry was mistaken for an employee of the shop where he and his wife Meghan were shopping for a Christmas tree, much to their amusement.
  • Location shooting for the Doctor Who episodes "Castrovalva" and "Black Orchid" was done at the estate of Lord de la Warr. The story goes that on the crew's arrival at the site the producer, John Nathan-Turner, found his lordship amongst the flower beds and assumed he was the gardener.
  • One of Al Franken's books contains excerpts of an angry email written to the RNC by a black delegate at the 2000 Republican National Convention, in which he described numerous other delegates telling him to "fetch them a taxi or carry their luggage" while he was wearing his delegate's credentials on his chest.
  • Dolly Parton's husband Carl Dean was often mistaken for the gardener when working in the front garden. Since he was determined to stay out of the limelight this was a mistake he generally encouraged.


Video Example(s):


Mistaken for Servant

Clive mistakes fellow juror Jackie for a waitress.

How well does it match the trope?

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Example of:

Main / MistakenForServant

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