Follow TV Tropes



Go To

The United States is a large country of stunning diversity, but the film and television industries are largely confined to one little corner of it: southern California, where Hollywood is. Writers tend to write what they know, and since they know Southern California, the rest of the country will often be inaccurately portrayed as being just like L.A. (And it'll look just like L.A., too.) Often, this happens just because it's cheaper to film in nearby locations than to spend money relocating staff to other parts of the country. Because of this, minute details about other locations tend to get written in media as being just like California, even when it's very different. This trope has been especially prominent in American culture since the 1980s, when Los Angeles began to supplant New York City as the "hip" place to be.


This is arguably the reason why It's Always Spring. Also known as Californication, which is the trope namer for a TV show and an album (and its titular song) by Red Hot Chili Peppers. Especially as a Take That! by residents of the Pacific Northwest. Nonetheless, it can be inverted by having shows that actually are set in Southern California... but filmed in Vancouver.

See also Big Applesauce. Subtrope of We All Live in America, which happens when American media assumes that life and culture in other parts of the world is the same as in the United States. Britain is Only London, Free State Amsterdam, Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo and the Eiffel Tower Effect occur when a country is deliberately reduced by the writer to its most iconic city or just one landmark. New York Is Only Manhattan is when one city, New York City, is reduced to one iconic area within it. Contrast Canada Does Not Exist, a weird Canadian inversion of this trope, and Eagleland Osmosis, where the omnipresence of American media leads non-Americans to believe that their country works just like America (or L.A., for that matter).


Non-American media is, of course, not exempt of its equivalents. The main difference is that unlike in the United States most media in other countries is often produced in or around the nation's capital.

Examples of the trope namer:

  • The death penalty. Until recently, often sought in California, but rare in practice due to the drawn-out process of appeals. In other states, can range from illegal (Massachusetts, Michigan), to on the books but unused (Pennsylvania, Kansas), to used so often it's no big deal at all (Texas, Virginia).
    • Stacy Keach's Mike Hammer made repeated references to the gas chamber, a means of execution used by California, but inconsistent with the series New York setting. The latter state relied on the electric chair for most of the 20th Century. Later law provided for lethal injection.
    • Law & Order plays with this, with suspects pointing out that no one had been executed in New York since the federal moratorium a few episodes after seeing someone executed. And then in other episodes, they like to threaten criminals who've murdered in Texas with extradition, as they're a lot faster to pull the switch.
  • Advertisement:
  • California cops have 48 hours to charge a suspect with a crime before they have to release him. The standard under federal law is actually 72 hours.
  • "To protect and to serve" isn't a general police slogan, just the slogan of the Los Angeles Police Department.
  • The LAPD vehicle livery (black hood, white cabin, black trunk) has also become popular all over the US. Even in places where the nearest major city does something different. Newark, Hoboken, and Jersey City Police vehicles copy the style of LAPD cars rather than neighboring New York.
  • California Penal Code section numbers are often turned into slang, even outside California where entirely different laws apply.
    • 187: Murder is defined in California Penal Code section 187.
      • In 2010, ABC offered Detroit 1-8-7, a show with a title referencing the California penal code (murder) in a city not in California. In the Michigan legal code, 187 is a long-repealed section on assisting prison breakouts. 750.316 is the actual Michigan penal code for murder.
      • On Will and Grace, set in New York, Will's policeman boyfriend Vince receives a page to participate in a "187" investigation. He is pleased to be called in to investigate one of these, which is odd given that he's not investigating residential mortgage fraud.
      • While on temporary duty with the NYPD, Marshal Sam McCloud responded to another "187" in Manhattan.
      • "187" was popularized in hardcore rap by the song "Deep Cover" by Dr. Dre and Snoop Dogg. It becomes a little silly when used by rappers not from California.
    • 5150: has recently entered urban vernacular for "crazy". Section 5150 of California Penal Code allows for a person to be involuntarily committed for up to 72 hours for psychiatric evaluation, if it's believed that person presents a danger to himself or others.
    • 211: Armed Robbery. Often heard on police dispatch channels ("Two-eleven in progress at...")
      • Seen in Hawaii Five-O [the original] and Miami Vice, even though neither show takes place in California. That would be a failure to guarantee a commercial loan and an attempt to subvert taxes on oil or mineral extraction, respectively.
      • This one seems to have percolated into real life. COLORADO white supremacist prison gang The 211 Crew is a reference to the out-of-state penal code. They also practice "187s." The Colorado Revised Statutes use a different numbering format from the California codes; the Colorado laws on homicide are codified at §§ 18-3-101 through 18-3-107; while those on robbery are codified at §§ 18-4-301 through 18-4-305.
  • California is one of nine "community property" states. This has led many people in TV and movies (and real life) to use the term when they mean "marital property".
  • While California is far from the only state to use the term "District Attorney" for their prosecutors, many states and the Federal government use different terms. Despite this, no matter where a work is set, a prosecutor is going to be called the District Attorney. You'll rarely hear US Attorney (the federal title), Commonwealth's Attorney, County Attorney, State's Attorney, or any of the other titles. It doesn't help that Law & Order, the one major police/courtroom franchise that is actually filmed in the jurisdiction it depicts, is also set in a state where each county's prosecution is led by a District Attorney (though they correctly depict that the Assistant District Attorneys are the ones often in the courtroom prosecuting.)
  • Parole is nearly always an option in fiction, unless the crime is especially heinous, in which case it can be taken off the table, like a "life without parole" sentence, just like in California. In reality, sixteen states have no parole system, and neither does the Federal government (for crimes committed after 1984).
  • Carbonated soft drinks are always "soda" – never "pop", "cola", or "coke" – because that's what the generic name for a fizzy drink is in California. Compare. In this case, pop culture is actually shifting due to the influence of media.
  • Pink boxes for donuts or cakes are specific to donut shops and bakeries in Southern California. Ironically, the ubiquity of the pink box in movies and tv shows led to bakeries outside of Southern California adopting the pink box.
  • Stories set ostensibly in places such as Ohio or Connecticut have characters wearing tee-shirts and other spring appropriate clothes in the middle of January.
  • In Southern California, highway numbers take the definite article: Interstate 5, for instance, is "the 5"; state highway 22 is "the 22", and so on. Despite this tic being pretty much unique to Southern California among Americans note , due to the numbered highways having earlier names (the Santa Monica and San Diego Freeways becoming Interstate 10/"the 10" and Interstate 405/"the 405" respectively), it is often carried over into shows and films even when people in the setting would say "Route 22", "State 22", "I-5", "Highway 5", just plain "5", and so forth (example: Cameron Diaz's Bostonian character in Knight and Day saying "the I-93" rather than "I-93" or "93").
  • In one episode of QI it is pointed out that only a particular subspecies of frogs, found in California, go "ribbit", while frogs can actually produce a wide variety of different sounds.
  • The state government office that deals with motor vehicle registration, driver's licenses, and personal identification is invariably called the Department of Motor Vehicles, or "the DMV." Most states have this department, but only 18 call it the DMV. The other 32 might change the name slightly, such as Arizona's Motor Vehicle Department (MVD), Massachusetts' Registry of Motor Vehicles (RMV or "the Registry") or Ohio's Bureau of Motor Vehicles (BMV). Others have a name completely different like the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (PennDOT). Still others give this task to government offices not normally associated with vehicles or ID. For example, Illinois and Michigan handle these tasks via local offices of the Secretary of State. Nonetheless, "the DMV" has become shorthand for this office all across the country.
  • The placement of license places on cars. In California along with 30 other states and 3 Canadian provinces, vehicles are required to have license plates on both the front and rear of the vehicle. So when a work is filmed in Cali, cars will always have front plates even if the story is set someplace that doesn't require them, like Florida or Pennsylvania.
  • A teenager will always be "legal" at the age of 18, as if this is the age of consent for the entire country. In reality, that's not even close to the truth. Each state has its own age of consent, and only twelve of them have it at 18, California being one of them. It's 16 in most of them (thirty) and 17 in the others. Also, most states have exceptions if both are younger than the age of consent, or one is at it but the other is slightly below; California, however, has no close-in-age exemptions at all. Also, it is a federal offense in the United States to take a minor across state lines for the purpose of engaging in sexual intercourse.note 
  • In-N-Out Burger has the vast majority of its stores in California, with a scant handful in surrounding states plus a few more locations peppered throughout north/central Texas. But they are sometimes mentioned in shows that take place elsewhere. Other franchises, such as Sonic and Jack in the Box, are also commonly seen on TV despite the fact that they aren't prevalent in some areas. Conversely, chains that are common in other parts of the U.S., such as Hardee's (see below) and White Castle, are almost never seen or mentioned, even in stories set where they are ubiquitous. Roy Rogers would've qualified for this too back in the 70s and 80s, but they've since been far reduced in scope and locations, as a result of Hardee's (who bought them from Marriott—yes, the hotel chain) attempting to use them as a plan for expansion, only for the restaurant to flop so badly that they had to close most of their locations.
  • California-specific namings of stores with different names across the country: Ralph's (supermarket chain owned by Kroger—which doesn't operate in some areas of the country), Checkers (known in some places as Rally's; they were originally separate chains, but merged), and Carl's Jr. (known as Hardee's in some places, mostly the South and Midwest; also a merger of two separate chains).
  • An hilariously odd sort of SoCalization appears in the Star Trek novel Spock's World by Diane Duane, in a description of Vulcan: "Jim tended to think of it as southern California, but with less rain." note 
  • Radio and TV stations sometimes have call letters beginning with "K" even when the setting is in the east, where they usually use "W".note 
  • For years, the opening credits of Matlock showed a Georgia license plate on a car's front bumper. Georgia, like most Southern states, has never used front plates.note 
  • The cities and terrain in SimCity have a distinct SoCal feel to them, with no seasonality, palm trees, and brown ground. Made especially odd by Maxis, the company behind Sim City, being from Northern California.
  • Five-card draw poker as the gambling game of choice (at least until Rounders was released and Texas hold 'em started airing on ESPN). California for a long time had an esoteric law prohibiting any form of stud poker, and Gardena (a Los Angeles suburb) was fairly well known for its draw poker cardrooms. From 1900 until the 1970's, five and seven-card stud games were far more popular in the rest of the country than TV and movies would indicate.
  • In many 80's/90's teen movies that don't take place in California, the "popular girls" have stereotypical Valley Girl lingo and fashion, despite the fact that this culture is mostly relegated to the Southern California area. Heathers, which takes place in suburban Ohio, is a notable example of this, as the three main Heathers look and act more like they belong in Beverly Hills than the Midwest.
  • Suburbia featuring sprawling one-story houses and wide streets. Outside the Southwest, suburbs tend to be far more compact with dozens of towns surrounding a city; the roads are narrower if the town predates automobiles, and the houses tend to be 2-story to accommodate the lack of space (this varies the further out you go).
  • An inversion: While Los Angeles and New York dominate in entertainment, the South and the Midwest will be more discussed in politics. This is due to small rural states having disproportionate power in Congress.note 
  • Public school architecture. Instead of a single large school building, most California schools use a "campus" design with several structures (often single story) surrounding a courtyard, to take advantage of the generally good weather during the autumn and winter months.note  The courtyard is usually where lockers and lunch tables are located. Unless it's explicitly set in the warmer parts of California (or another area with a mild climate), a movie or TV show about high school will look really odd to most people if it shows the characters congregating outdoors in a courtyard or walking to class through a covered walkway.
  • The stickiness of the term Junior High. This is, of course, partly because Most Writers Are Adults - but it's partly because the L.A. school district didn't reconfigure and rebrand them to middle schools until the mid-90s, some 20 years after most of the rest of the country.
  • If a quail shows up in a cartoon, no matter where it's supposed to be set, it's almost guaranteed to be a California quail. That and Gambel's quail (another West Coast species) are the only 2 species (out of over 50) with the head plume that animated quail are required to have so that audiences know they're quail.
  • People of Latin American descent in other states are as likely as not - and sometimes more likely - to be from the Caribbean or even South America as they are to be from Mexico or Central America. But expect tacos, burritos, piñatas, Dia de los Muertos, northwestern Mexican slang, etc., no matter where you are.
    • It's noteworthy that Latinos in American media became noticeably darker and began to be treated as a distinct race in the 1980s, precisely when Los Angeles replaced New York City as the hip place to be (NYC's Latin American community has historically been dominated by white Cubans and Puerto Ricans).
  • As Tom Scott explains, this is one reason that there's a dial tone in movies after someone hangs up: during the celluloid film era, Southern California was one of the few areas in America with independent telephone companies outside of the contemporary Bell monopoly. (The other reason being Rule of Perception combined with The Coconut Effect.)

Examples in other countries:

  • In Canada, it's called "We All Live in Ontario". Due to the concentration of media in Toronto in an otherwise enormous country, pretty much anything of a "national" nature in English Canada is "Ontario". This includes terminology, accents, products and stores, etc. CBC takes a lot of flak for this from non-Ontarians. There is even a degree of Canadian Eagleland Osmosis that goes with it, as many people from thousands of miles away in British Columbia, for instance, have internalized Canadian stereotypes as their own, even though they never were. Some examples from Vancouver in particular: ice hockey (not that common when you can't make outdoor rinks); anything wintery for that matter (hosting the 2010 Winter Olympics did not help that image); Ontario pronunciation ("Canadian raising" is much less obvious in B.C.); Tim Hortons (almost entirely absent from the Vancouver area until the merger with Wendy's – Vancouver is a first-rate coffee town with tons of local options, which is probably not too surprising when you're a couple hours' drive from Seattle).
    • People from French-speaking Quebec get the Berserk Button when they get lumped with the rest of English Canada that way, but the trope exists in their province as well, and can be called "We All Live in Montreal and Quebec City".
  • In Sweden, it's called "We All Live in Stockholm, Göteborg and Malmö." And sometimes not even the last two are counted. The country has a population of 9 million, with over two million living in these cities. For comparison, there are only eight cities in Sweden with a population of over 100,000. Now, consider that most entertainment advertised, and lots of the brands as well can't be found in the smaller communities, and that going to a major city can take hours if not days...
  • For the Netherlands, it often becomes "We all live in Amsterdam". Especially common among tourists. Related to Freestate Amsterdam.
    • Or at least, "We all live in the Randstad" even though about three fifths of the population lives in the remaining three quarters of the country. Even national politicians seem to frequently forget that things that work in the major cities, or requirements imposed on them, don't necessarily also apply to the rest of the country, especially the more rural areas.
  • For Denmark, it's "We all live in Copenhagen or (maybe) Aarhus". Aalborg or Odense might be included, but it's rare. The rest is referred to as "Udkantsdanmark", meaning "outskirts of Denmark" – or what would be Flyover Country in the US.
  • For the Philippines, it's "We all live in Metro Manila". Justified considering that Metro Manila, a collection of seventeen cities named for the capital of the Philippines, has the highest population density in Southeast Asia as well as being the headquarters of most if not all of the major media broadcasting companies. A curious subtrope is "All Filipinos are Tagalog", which applies both to the language (Tagalog is the basis of Filipino) and to the people and is a potential Berserk Button for anyone who doesn't live in Metro Manila or the surrounding provinces.
  • For Italy, it's either "We all live in Rome/Naples" or "We all live in Tuscany". Italy has 60 million people and less than 3 million live in either Rome or Naples. While most of the peninsula is Mediterranean in nature, lots of cities are located far from the sea and warm weather. And let's not mention how every single region is quite different from the others in culture and traditions.
  • In Russian internet, Moscow is often jokingly called "Default city" (in English) for exactly that. Everything outside Moscow is known as "Замкадье" ("Transmkadia"), referring to the MKAD highway encircling Moscow.
  • Apparently, in Australia, we all live in Sydney, or to a lesser extent Melbourne. Other cities? What other cities?
    • The Melbourne Cup is celebrated as an official public holiday... in Melbourne, only. It's optional throughout the rest of Victoria, and the rest of the country fronts up to work as usual each first Tuesday in November. Although nearly everyone stops to watch or listen to the race when it's run.
  • In general, any television show showing "modern Britain" will focus on either "modern London" (where most of the big telly companies are based) or "modern Manchester" (where the BBC is trying to move to avert this trope).
    • Exceptions are when the show is produced by one of the BBC's subnational branches (BBC Scotland, BBC Cymru, and BBCNI), where it will almost certainly be "modern Glasgow" (where 1/3 of Scots live), "modern Cardiff", or "modern Belfast".
      • Cardiff is slightly more reasonable than some of the other examples. South Wales is home to 2/3 of the population of Wales and Cardiff is very accessible from most areas of South Wales.
    • In the past, TV and radio presenters were required to speak using received pronunciation (ie., the extremely posh accent heard in older broadcasts), and even when that was relaxed a bit they still had to use a "proper" English accent. It's only in the last couple of decades that presenters have been free to speak normally in their natural accent. This can give the impression that, prior to the '90s, only close relations of the Queen were allowed to read the news, while now, even if there tends to be a focus on a few large cities, you at least get some impression that people from the rest of the country actually exist.
  • It seems that all Germans are from Bayern (Bavaria), as almost every stereotype someone could possibly have about us is based on the Bavarian culture and are not part of the average-German. Lederhosen, anyone?
    • With most national TV stations residing in Rhineland area, to Germans themselves that would be this trope.
    • On television at least, this trope has been quite thoroughly averted in Germany. The main public television broadcaster is composed of nine regional stations, all of which produce plenty of content for both regional and public broadcast. The longest-running TV show, the police procedural Tatort, which is considered a national institution, is produced by all of them as well as the Swiss and Austrian stations and takes place in over 20 different cities.
  • In New Zealand, it's "We all live in Auckland", since this is where most of the media outlets and television companies are based.
    • Auckland Anniversary Day (the Monday closest to 29 January) is particularly bad - it's treated as a national public holiday on television even though it's only a public holiday in the upper North Island; elsewhere it's a regular working Monday. Wellington Anniversary Day (the Monday before) is closer to a national public holiday than Auckland Anniversary Day: Wellington is the capital city and therefore every government department is affected.
  • In Finland, it's "We all live in Helsinki". One guy criticized the trope by saying that 4 of 5 Finns don't live in Helsinki, Espoo, or Vantaa, but almost every TV show takes place in there.
  • Downplayed in France. While most TV series take place in large cities such as Paris and Marseille and 1 of 7 French people live in the Île-de-France region (composed of Paris and all its suburbs), several large companies and a fair share of movies and cultural events put less known towns in the spotlight. Furthermore, French cuisine hailing from every part of the country, you can be sure that some people will know about towns such as Castelnaudary (hometown of cassoulet) or Roquefort sur Soulzon (hometown of Roquefort cheese).
  • In Brazil, it's "We all live in Rio de Janeiro". It creates an awkward feeling when people are visiting Brazil in other places other than Rio de Janeiro, where Carnaval is not a big thing or extremely different from the image foreign people have of Carnaval; samba is not present, as it is only common to the City of Rio de Janeiro; football is not widespread in places like the North Region; the semi-arid climate of the central Northeast region and the highlands subtropical/temperate climate of the South region, whereas Rio de Janeiro has a lush tropical climate and vegetation; and people in the South Region being pale, while people in Rio de Janeiro are tanned, and many others. The main reason is that Rio de Janeiro produces most of Brazil's TV and movies.
    • On the other hand, the other televisual media - and most of the written one - goes for "We all live in São Paulo", the country's biggest city/state with most economic and demographic significance.
    • In fact, both cities' status as the only places in the country that matter according to media form a nice parallel to Los Angeles/SoCal and New York, respectively.
  • Nearly every TV series produced in Spain will take place in Madrid, unless it has a pre-defined premise/plotline that calls for a different setting in particular like in crime/mystery and historical dramas. In sitcoms, it's common to start with a vague urban setting supposedly to appeal the same to everyone (so there is no other language but Spanish, there is no accent but Standard Castilian, there is no mention if the city has a port to not give away if it's on the coast or inland, etc). As the series goes on, more and more 'Madridisms' will creep in, until the plot finally reveals what was expected if not painfully evident to everyone, that the show does take place in Madrid. This process is particularly eyebrow-raising because 1) most sitcoms are shot entirely on sets, so they could really localize them anywhere had they wanted to and 2) there is as much media produced in Barcelona as in Madrid.
  • It's fairly rare in South Korean media to see stories set outside of Seoul or Kyeonggi-do. This is perhaps justified considering nearly half of the entire country's population lives in the Seoul metropolitan area.
  • And, of course, in Japan, no one lives anywhere but Tokyo (Edo if period drama). Town X shows take place in Tokyo suburb X, even if they are filmed in a completely different region. The only time this doesn't happen is if being somewhere else is an important plot point, as in Deka Kurokawa Suzuki, in which being in the sticks is a major plot point. Even if they occur in the far flung future, such as Mobile Suit Gundam 00, there will be New Tokyo Special City. One complete aversion is Digimon Savers, which takes place in Yokohama for no real reason. However, one should be aware that the two cities share a district, and certain legal codes are prefaced with Tokyo-Yokohama.
  • Within Hong Kong, foreign media often only show the Central area on the north coast of Hong Kong Island - it is not uncommon for westerners to think Hong Kong is literally an island, à la Singapore, despite that Hong Kong Island isn't even the largest island in Hong Kong (that would be Lantau Island). Only about 1 in 6 Hongkongers live on Hong Kong Island. Around half of the population lives in discrete new towns scattered throughout the countryside. Speaking of which: even locals are sometimes surprised to know about 70% of Hong Kong's area is nature and more than a third of the total is forested. When you see photos of Hong Kong's border with China, the side with grasslands, forests, farmland, and little villages is Hong Kong's side, not China.


How well does it match the trope?

Example of:


Media sources: