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Penny Among Diamonds

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"I toldja, its like an turning an old lamp into a chandelier."
Spencer, Half & Half

A commoner (or poor person) is thrust into rich culture for whatever reasons, but without becoming rich themselves. Most commonly, it will be a poor student who receives a scholarship to a prestigious school, a commoner hired to work as a butler/maid for someone rich, or they enter a romantic relationship with someone who is rich. Usually the story is portrayed from the view of the commoner. Contrast Rags to Riches, where the commoner becomes rich but may still face taunts and derision from those with Old Money. A classic of the Culture Clash trope, contrasted with Slumming It when jumping from the opposite side of the fence—especially when doing the Prince and Pauper routine. Expect Fish out of Water aspects in both this and the inverse trope.


This is a Super-Trope of Princess for a Day and Scholarship Student. Sub-trope of Fish out of Water. Also see Mock Millionaire, Cast Full of Rich People. Contrast Token Rich Student, who is more of a Diamond among Pennies.


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    Anime & Manga 
  • Boys over Flowers: Makino's parents force her to attend a school for rich kids so she may get a rich husband.
  • Yukihira Souma from Food Wars! can be considered this, as the majority of the students at Totsuki Academy are from VERY well off families. Played with in that his father is actually a famous chef and former Toutsuki student, but chose to work as the owner of a small restaurant while Souma was growing up.
  • In Fruits Basket, Tohru Honda ends up living with several members of the very wealthy Sohma family. The family members that she hangs around with tend not to come across as the Old Money family they come from, but they do occasionally treat Tohru to things like vacations at family-owned resorts or beach houses. A much darker example would be Ren, Akito's mother. She was a maid before marrying very high into the family (specifically Akira, the then-head of the household) and many members of the family never forgave this. Ren didn't exactly seem to try to ingratiate herself to the family, but classism is apparently the main reason other maids accuse her of "seducing" her husband and claiming she tricked him into marrying her.
  • Hayate the Combat Butler: Hayate is left with a huge debt from his parents, and works to pay it off as a butler under a small rich girl.
  • He Is My Master: Two sisters are forced to work off a very large debt to a filthy rich kid, and become his maids.
  • Miyuki Shirogane from Kaguya-sama: Love Is War is lower middle class and attending a school for the children of nobility, politicians, and businessmen. Unlike most examples, he is the Student Council President and is respected by his peers.
  • In My Hero Academia, Ochaco Uraraka is from a poor family from Osaka, when several of her classmates are fabulously wealthy, especially Momo Yaoyorozu. Uraraka tries to defy the trope of being The Idiot from Osaka by speaking standard Japanese instead of her native Osaka dialect and not telling anyone about her poor family life, but earning money for her parents from hero work is her motivation.
  • Dark Chick Alpha Bitch Satomi Ozawa and later protagonist Shiina of Naru Taru attend the prestigious Banda Academy despite being from poor and middle class families, respectively. Satomi's descent into villainy is mainly fueled by her obsessive need to prove herself superior to everyone in spite of her humble background as a result of her difficulties fitting in at such a fancy school, where by contrast Shiina's cheerful and friendly personality wins her plenty of decent friends who don't care about her background and she doesn't really take popularity or social status seriously, anyway. Which, of course makes Satomi resent her even more...
  • Ouran High School Host Club: Ouran Academy is a very prestigious school attended by the children of the extremely wealthy... and Haruhi, a working-class girl with middle-class aspirations on an academic scholarship. Wacky culture-clash shenanigans are inevitable.
  • In Special A, Hikari Hanazono is the daughter of a working-class family attending a very prestigious school - her friends and peer group at school consist of three heirs to multinational conglomerates (Kei, assorted businesses; Akira, an airline; Ryu, sporting goods), two children of a pair of cross-culturally famous performers (twins Jun and Megumi), the son of the extremely rich school's director (Tadashi)... and the daughter of a carpenter (Hikari herself).
  • In Sword Art Online, during the Alicization arc, Eugeo and Kirito are among the very few non-nobles who attend the Imperial Swordcraft Academy, despite having been a former woodcutter who'd accomplished his Calling and an outsider who's thought to be an amnesiac, respectively. In their second year, they take on Teise and Ronye as their pages, and both girls come from low-ranking noble families. All four of them, especially the first pair, are the target of cruel treatment by Raios and Humbert, both very high-ranking nobles.
  • In My Next Life as a Villainess: All Routes Lead to Doom!, Maria Campbell, the heroine of the otome game Fortune Lover, was one of the few commoners to get into the magical school where the game takes place, by virtue of having a rare talent for light magic. Maria ends up getting bullied by some of her noble schoolmates who are jealous of her talent and/or closeness with certain young noblemen or princes, and Catarina (the main character of the series) is one of her worst tormentors in the game.

  • In Hoi Polloi, a professor attempts to teach The Three Stooges to be gentlemen.
  • James Bond:
  • In Love Me Tonight (1932), Maurice the tailor spends a few days in a castle full of aristocrats who think he's one of them. Lampshaded when he wears his everyday casual suit, turtleneck, and flat cap to a costume ball.
  • In Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day, the eponymous Miss Pettigrew gets this treatment, pretending to be an upper-class social secretary in order to find work.
  • The title character of Ophelia is presented as such. She's not nobleborn and her father is a counsellor to the king, rather than a lord. Queen Gertrude makes her one of her ladies-in-waiting, but some of the courtiers, in particular the other ladies, still treat her as something of an outsider and don't let her forget she's not truly 'one of them'. This is reflected in her clothing; she tends to wear plainer-looking gowns and no jewellery because her father can't afford finer things.
  • In The Skulls, the main character has a blue-collar background and is working a succession of odd jobs in order to pay his way through Harvard law school. He sees his association with the eponymous secret society as just one more step up the ladder.

  • In the Bloody Jack series Mary "Jacky" Faber, a ha'penny at best as a former London street urchin and ex-Royal Navy ship's boy, is a very rough fit in Boston's Lawson Peabody School for Girls.
  • In A Brother's Price Jerin saves the life of a princess, and as a reward the royal family offers to sponsor his coming out in society, which will enable him to find rich brides. He and the sisters who accompany him are given expensive clothes, so that they don't have to spend more money than they can afford, or look poor. Some of the nobles who do know who they are do look down on them, but all in all it goes rather well.
  • Jerusha "Judy" Abbott from Daddy-Long-Legs is a Scholarship Student, and while she is given an allowance so she can be on equal footing with the other students, still feels different around most of the students due to her orphan status, save her dorm mate Sallie.
  • The Great Gatsby: Gatsby was this in his youth, before he made a fortune bootlegging and became Nouveau Riche. He's still struggling to rub elbows with the Old Money, however.
  • In Jo's Boys (the second sequel to Little Women) musician Nat goes to Europe for school. Due to having wealthy and influential friends everyone thinks that he's wealthy and influential as well. Too bad he's an orphan who spent a number of years as a street musician, and thus has little idea of how to handle money. Cue the nineteenth century version of a Credit Card Plot.
  • The Kiki Strike series has Ananka, who subverts this as well as Scholarship Student. At her elite private school, where there are a lot of actual scholarship girls, Ananka is the outsider because one of her relatives left the family money that can only be spent on education and nothing else. So she is neither a scholarship student or rich enough to fit in.
  • In the Private series, Reed is a Scholarship Student at the elite Easton Academy. Many of the girls hate her for becoming a Billings Girl despite being at the school on scholarship.
  • The Raven Cycle: Adam Parrish is a Scholarship Student who grew up in a trailer park and has to work three jobs. The other boys at Aglionby Academy frequently drop hundreds of thousands of dollars with barely a second thought.
  • Richard Papen, the main character of Donna Tarte's The Secret History, is a young man from a modest background who ends up attending a prestigious liberal arts school in Vermont. He is surrounded by wealthy pupils who can produce huge sums at the drop of a hat, and feels the need to fabricate a more appealing background for himself in order to fit in.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Burn Notice season one episode nine, has for a client of the week Nick Lam, a house sitter whose fiancee has been kidnapped. Problem is, he's just a house sitter who's had increasing difficulty telling people he's just a house sitter.
  • In the first season of Chicago P.D., Lindsay tells Halstead that when the Voights took her in, they transferred her to a private school full of rich kids who were only friendly until they learned the truth about her background.
  • The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air revolves entirely around a West-Philadelphia-born-and-raised hoodrat named Will catapulted into his rich Aunt and Uncle's Bel Air community, resulting in many humorous moments as he finds himself at odds with the townspeople and characters, socially and financially.
  • Gilmore Girls: Rory goes to a private high school and Yale thanks to some funding from her wealthy grandparents, but her family remains rather poor.
  • As revealed in Season 2 of H2O: Just Add Water, Rikki lives with her divorced father in a trailer on the outskirts of the Gold Coast, while Cleo, Emma, and Lewis are from upper-class families, and Zane comes from a rich family. Rikki pretends to be upper-class until her father meets Zane and accuses him of being a thief.
  • ‘’Mirai Sentai Timeranger’’ and ‘’Power Rangers Time Force’’ have this as the backstory for Sixth Ranger Naoto/Eric aka. Timefire/Quantum Ranger. He went to school with Tatsuya/Wes but was on a scholarship hence their Green-Eyed Monster tendencies.
  • In an episode of My Name Is Earl, Joy and Darnell (plus Dodge and Earl Jr.) are relocated as part of Witness Protection after Darnell's identity was accidentally revealed. Joy keeps outing the family so she'll be able to live in a gated community...and eventually gets her wish. But she doesn't fit in at all with the other women, and her family is not actually wealthy. Earl has to help her fit in.
  • The Nanny: The entire show revolves around Fran Fine leaving Flushing to become the nanny for a rich Broadway producer's children.

  • The titular Oldport in Dawn of a New Age: Oldport Blues is a Rhode Island city predominantly home to the upper-class, but there are a few characters in the main cast who are much further down the economic ladder:
    • Ciro lives in a non-gentrified neighbourhood and, along with his father, works multiple jobs to support them and their small apartment. This has led to him getting bullied in school, and almost resulted in his siblings dying to a monster after one of the richer students used his neighbourhood as a testing ground for a monster, figuring that poor people were disposable.
    • Destiny's parents came into riches with her father's best-selling novel, allowing them to buy a comfortable home in Oldport, but afterwards they fell on hard times once the money ran dry. She also works multiple jobs to make up for it, and in general has become very self-sufficient in contrast to her peers.
    • Patty, a member of Nadine's gang, comes from a low-income household where most of her father's expenses go towards alcohol. She was attracted to Nadine's gang because they offered her a better life than the one she had previously.

    Tabletop Games 
  • The core book for Hunter: The Vigil mentions that Ashewood Abbey will, once a year, take in a vagrant and give them the good life. If they prove decadent enough, the Abbey extends membership - and, presumably, keeps them buoyed.

  • In Pygmalion by George Bernard Shaw, working-class Eliza Doolittle becomes the subject of an experiment by two upper-class linguists to see whether they can pass her off as a member of the upper classes by teaching her better speech and manners. For the duration of the experiment, she gets her accommodation, meals and clothes provided, but once the experiment ends she's faced with the fact that she hasn't the means to continue living the life she's been taught up to and no longer fits comfortably in the life she used to live.
  • My Fair Lady, the musical adaptation of Pygmalion, has the same situation.

    Video Games 
  • Final Fantasy XII: Vaan and Penelo are poor orphans who go on an adventure with Ashe (The queen of Rabanastre, who's on the run) and Balthier (formerly a Judge of the Arcadian Empire). Given that the former is a government-in-exile and the later is a sky-pirate, the usual aspects of this trope are minor indeed. Indeed, they have little bearing even in motivations.
  • Delita starts as this in Final Fantasy Tactics, becoming Ramza's comrade in the academy despite being from a lowborn family. Delita's younger sister Tietra also goes to school alongside Ramza's sister, Alma, but ends up being bullied for being a commoner.
  • Fire Emblem: Three Houses:
    • Dorothea is the only commoner in the Black Eagles house, having grown up as a street urchin before being discovered by the Mittelfrank Opera Company. Because of this, she's a bit hostile to nobles who flaunt their status, and one of her motivations for joining the academy in the first place is to find a rich spouse.
    • Downplayed with Ashe: while he was born to commoners and lived in poverty for much of his life (and his starting class is Commoner), he was adopted into nobility by Lonato, a lord of the Kingdom. Because he came from nothing, he sympathizes with the less fortunate, and wishes to become a knight so he can protect those who can't protect themselves.
    • While Leonie is not the only commoner in the Golden Deer house, she's by far the poorest, being a hunter from a poor village rather than the child of merchants like the other two commoners in her house. As such, she had to borrow quite a bit of money to even attend the academy, and tries to live as frugally as possible.
  • In Omega Labyrinth Life, Hinata Akatsuki is the very first transfer student to the prestigious and absurdly rich Belles Fleurs Academy. It's both a plot point and a frequent source of comedy that she's not from a rich and privileged background like everyone else.

    Visual Novels 
  • Chiho Sagisawa in Princess Evangile, in contrast to most other Vincennes students, is from a middle class family. Because of this, she's often looked down on by most of the other, wealthier students of the school, which partially motivates her into joining the White Lily Society and helping to reform the school's policies.
    • This also applies to Masaya as well, at first. It's only thanks to Rise and her grandmother that he is able to study in Vincennes under scholarship. Thankfully, in Chapter 3, he manages to recover his lost winning lottery ticket, and by the 4th is already possessing millions of yen.
  • In Shinrai: Broken Beyond Despair, Runa is the poorest of the teenagers who attend Rie's party, being the daughter of a fishmonger and a cleaning lady. Rie herself is the daughter of a family that owns several resorts, while the protagonist's family owns their own home(something that's much more expensive in Japan than in the west).

    Western Animation 
  • Family Guy
    • One episode has Chris sent to a prestigious school with some influence from his grandfather, but he is teased as he still doesn't actually have any money. The rest of the family all take on part-time jobs to pay for his tuition.
    • In one of the first episodes, Lois inherits a mansion from her aunt Margurite. Peter becomes insecure about not fitting in with the wealthy people in Newport, but he cultures himself. He becomes really arrogant and sells the Griffin family house so he and the family can continue to live at the mansion. Peter comes around in the end, though.
  • A later episode of King of the Hill centers around Joseph receiving a football scholarship to an expensive private school. But he struggles to fit in with the rich kids, and Dale tries to do things to help him better relate to his new peers.
  • The Simpsons:
    • When Marge buys a designer dress at a discount and gets invited to a country club.
    • One of Homer's male relatives in "Lisa the Simpson" hopes to be this trope.
    Real Life 
  • Go to any high level high school as a poor student. The disparity is quite clear.
  • Also true to a lesser extent at universities. Especially in certain degrees like finance or law.


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