Alice is going to meet Dr. Smith, whom she knows only by name and/or reputation. Upon entering Dr. Smith's office, she sees a distinguished-looking gentleman who perfectly fits her mental image of what Dr. Smith ought to look like talking to an ordinary teenage girl. So she goes up to the man and starts talking to him... only for the teenage girl to inform her that she's Dr. Smith, and the man is just an assistant (or male relative, friend, or something along those lines).
Gender, Improbable Age, or the real Dr. Smith being eccentric or sloppy-looking are some of the most common reasons why Alice might be mistaken, though there can be other reasons why Dr. Smith doesn't look the part (at least in Alice's eyes). In some instances, race can be a factor; this usually leads to Unfortunate Implications.
This trope is a relative of Actually, I Am Him and Expecting Someone Taller. In the former, Alice is looking for Bob but doesn't know what he looks like; she meets a man and tells him that she's looking for Bob, and he leads her on a bit before revealing that he is Bob. In the latter, Alice is looking for Bob (whom she knows only by reputation); he arrives, but looks nothing like she was expecting, and she explains her confusion or lack of reaction by saying "I'm sorry, I was expecting someone taller" or something along those lines. Neither involves the element of picking the wrong person out of a pair (or more), which is what this trope's about at its core.
Compare Mistaken Age.
- In an ad for Kenco, a man and woman arrive at a coffee plantation, and the owner greets the man enthusiastically. The woman says they'll take all the best beans for instant coffee, because Kenco uses the same beans for instant and roast. The owner says he'll have to clear that with the boss, to which the woman replies "You just have."
Anime and Manga
- In the manga Anonymous, a character is assigned to be the bodyguard of the brilliant and accomplished scientist Dr. Elie Wendell. He's shown a photo of a grown man and a teenage girl; he assumes the man is Dr. Wendell. He's wrong, of course. Granted, the Tomboyish Name probably didn't help with the confusion, nor the Improbable Age issue.
- Subverted in Beelzebub: upon being introduced to the demon doctor (who happens to have taken on a form not unlike a Pacman ghost in the human world), the protagonist is disbelieving, and barges in on the patient being treated by a (apparently human) young girl in a lab coat. He therefore assumes that she is the doctor and that he was mistaken about the other one (especially as she confirms that she is the doctor)... until the original catches her by the ear and scolds her for trying to assume the identity of her boss. She's actually the assistant.
- In Dance in the Vampire Bund, Vera is mistakenly assumed to be the school's chairwoman. It's then taken a step further, as Mina turns out to also be the school's founder.
- In the manwha Demon Diary, Eclipse (Raenef's mentor) is mistaken for the local demon lord, at which point, and with much exasperation, he introduces Raenef as the real demon lord.
- Received a Lampshade Hanging by two "hostages" that it was an official record that no has guessed Raneef correctly.
- In Fullmetal Alchemist, Edward is the State Alchemist, with the nickname of Fullmetal Alchemist due to his prosthetic arm and leg. His little brother Alphonse, who has lost his entire body in a failed alchemy experiment and has his soul is bound to a large metal armor, is often mistaken for him due to the nickname.
- That, and no-one expects a fifteen-year-old boy to be a famous alchemist and soldier, nor for the suit of armor accompanying him to be hosting the soul of his younger brother.
- In Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex the agents greet a man with a quadruped robot by his side who they assume is the CEO of the company they're visiting. The man responds "No, I'm just an android" and it turns out that the robot is the CEO's body (since he likes the look).
- Happens constantly in Shina Dark. Satan is an affable, likeable kind of guy, while people tremble in fear before his butler. To be fair, his butler wears suits and black capes, whereas Satan prefers loose T-shirts.
- Bleach: A non-comedic example. Everybody, including the readers, thought Gin Ichimaru was the Big Bad. Then came The Reveal that Gin was just the right-hand man of the true Big Bad - Sousuke Aizen.
- Turned Up to Eleven and played for laughs in Dragonball Z when Goku starts training with whom he believes to be King Kai. When the real Kai shows up, he is rather amused at the stranger imitating his pet monkey.
- The Tintin comic Flight 714 had Captain Haddock suffer this when the millionaire they are to meet turns out to be the sickly, worn-down looking fellow he'd just mistaken for a vagrant.
- When Nightwing first moves to Bludhaven, he notes that his landlady has a sexy Irish accent, but hasn't seen her face because it was always blocked by something when they spoke previously. Later on he's outside and overhears the accent again when passing a redheaded caucasian woman talking to an asian woman. He tells the redhead that he's finally glad to be able to meet her face to face, and she starts laughing. Turns out the asian woman is his landlady, she was adopted and raised in Ireland.
- In Murder By Death, the butler announces the arrival of "Miss Jessica Marbles and nurse". The already arrived guests assume that the old woman in the wheelchair is Miss Jessica Marbles, when actually the younger woman is Jessica Marbles, who is now taking care of her old nurse, who is by this point, completely gaga.
- In Wayne's World 2, Wayne and Garth go to the local radio station to be interviewed by disc jockey Handsome Dan. The good-looking guy they first greet turns out to be Mr. Scream (the wacky voice guy), while Handsome Dan is... well, Harry Shearer.
- In Mean Girls, the two teachers read from some card that they have a new student, named Cady Heron, from Africa. At which point everyone in the class turns to the new black student, who angrily replies that she's from Michigan. The actual Cady then speaks up.
- In Treasure Planet, Dr. Doppler greets Mr. Arrow, a large man made of stone, and calls him captain. Arrow then informs him that the real captain is the Catgirl doing acrobatics on the ship's rigging.
- In Citizen Kane, when Kane is buying the Inquirer, the editor of the paper mistakes Joseph Cotten's character for Kane.
- In one of the most dramatic moments in Muppet history, when we are about to be introduced to Captain Smollet in Muppet Treasure Island, a horse carriage hurdles through the streets, and out steps a tall aggressive figure in a billowing trenchcoat. He then steps aside to reveal Kermit the Frog. Hey-Ho, everyone!
- In Guess Who, the father assumes the taxi driver is his daughter's boyfriend, because he assumes her boyfriend will also be black.
- In Iron Eagle II, the central plot element is that a joint task force consisting of U.S. and Soviet Union troops has been assembled to perform a surgical strike on a nuclear missile silo in the Middle East. When the Soviet team arrives, their commander, Colonel Vardovsky, meets a sharp-looking officer whom he believes to be the Americans' commander, General Sinclair, and introduces himself with a crisp salute. The man informs the Colonel that he's actually just a lieutenant, at which point the real Charles "Chappy" Sinclair (played by the very black Louis Gossett Jr.) makes his own introduction.
- In Men in Black, K and J are sent to pick up an alien consultant, and meet a pasty-faced man with a dog:
J: Now that's the worst disguise ever. That guy's gotta be an alien.
- In the live-action Madeline movie, there's a Running Gag of ambassadors and their wives from different countries being brought in to tour Madeline's school in hopes that they'll buy the building as a new embassy. At the end, there's one last couple taking the tour while the girls are trying to save the school, and another character says something like "What about the Ukrainian ambassador?" The husband then admits that he isn't the ambassador; his wife steps forward and says that she is, and lets the school stay open.
- In The Man Who Knew Too Little, when Wallace arrives at his brother's house, he mistakes the maid for his sister-in-law.
Wallace: Sis? Give me a hug!
- In Ali, Muhammad Ali, travelling by plane to Zaire, is invited to the cockpit. He finds two men, a white and a black one, and addresses the first one as the pilot. The man retorts "I'm just the copilot, he's the pilot!"
- In What's Up, Doc?, the constantly befuddled Howard (Ryan O'Neal) is practicing his introduction to a very important sponsor. He approaches a well-dressed man...
Howard: Mr. Larrabee, it's a privilege to meet you. I'm Doctor Howard Bannister.
- In The Sound of Music, on arriving at the von Trapp mansion, Maria mistakes the butler for the Captain.
- According to the real Maria von Trapp's autobiography, this actually happened, making it a Real Life example as well.
- The 2005 King Kong has Ann Darrow mistake another character (IIRC he's the director's assistant) for Jack Driscoll, a writer she admires greatly. As she's describing how the man in front of her fits none of the stereotypes she had associated with him, Jack snaps his book shut, revealing he's exactly who she'd been expecting.
- Alfred Bester's short story, "Time is the Traitor" has John Strapp, who is known as a brilliant man who can solve multi-planetary corporation problems. We are first shown him as we see a tall, powerful, distinguished looking man, accompanied by a short, balding, harried, bags under eyes, man, obviously his accountant. No, the tall guy is just the decoy.
- The Scandal of Father Brown by G. K. Chesterton uses this trope; there's a beautiful rich American woman in a small town in Mexico. She is married to a respectable businessman named Potter, but had been linked to a fiery poet named Rudel Romanes. She is constantly in the company of a short, stooped hairy man with a bushy beard man, and is constantly being followed by a tall, darkly handsome man. There is also a journalist, who determines to write an expose of the whole mess, assuming that the short man is Potter and the tall man is Romanes. After she flees the hotel with the tall man, Father Brown explains that in fact, it was the other way 'round. The tall handsome man is her husband,and the old man is the poet. As he explains to the journalist, "You see, you are so incurably romantic that your whole case was founded on the idea that a man looking like a young god couldn't be called Potter."
- In the Discworld novel Unseen Academicals, the protagonist catches a glimpse of an tall, haughty and quite skinny looking lady who she takes to be Lady Margolotta, a famous vampire, who is accompanied by a shorter, and less imposing woman she takes to be her assistant... You work out the rest.
- In the Retrievers books by Laura Anne Gilman, the titular Retrievers are Wren, a short, nondescript woman who is an accomplished thief and powerful magic-user, and Sergei, a tall, muscular man who handles the financial end of things. People usually assume their roles are the other way around.
- The Dark Side of the Sun by Terry Pratchett features several quotes from and descriptions of the works of Charles Sub-Lunar, who amongst his many acomploshments translated the Joker language - or co-deciphered, the work traditionally being attributed to "a poet and a mad computer". The main character, Dom, keeps running into (but not speaking to) "a thickset Earthman with a face criscrossed with dueling scars and a small battered Class One robot", and is told this is Sub-Lunar. Much later, when he mentions the "poet and mad computer" line, he's told "Yes, although he's not really mad. I don't know who the poet was. His servant is quite fascinating too, with all those scars."
- This happens occasionally in Lucy Maud Montgomery's novels or short stories: a very famous person (usually a celebrated author) makes an appearance at the humble abode of the heroine, along with her friend. The heroine at first thinks that the tall, graceful, well-dressed woman is the famous writer, and is perplexed by the short, plump woman who seems utterly diminished next to her. However, thanks to proper introductions, the issue is sorted out straightaway.
- Played with in Old Tin Sorrows, when Garrett must secretly bring a doctor to examine a wealthy client who thinks he's there to track down some stolen property. Morley escorts both a doctor and a fence to the estate, and Garrett mentally mistakes each for the other ... because Morley deliberately sought out a doctor who looked sleazy enough to be passed off as a fence's assistant.
- In Natsume Soseki's I Am A Cat, Sneaze/Kushami is called on by a policeman bringing the recently-captured thief who robbed his (Sneaze's) house. Sneaze assumes the thief is the policeman because he's more smartly dressed.
- Firefly did this with one of Inara's clients (who was, to the surprise of everyone and the delight of some, a woman). The reaction from one character is the Trope Namer for I'll Be in My Bunk
- On The Muppet Show when Vincent Price guess starred, there was a skit in which Fozzie and Gonzo stop at a castle and are greeted by Price, who lives there with his lovely assistant and a hideous beast. A hideous looking character appears and Fozzie assumes he's the beast. "Watch it! I'm the lovely assistant."
- Doctor Who:
- Happens in the story "Robot", where Sarah Jane, despite being a self-professed feminist, doesn't recognize a female director as the person in charge.
- In "Utopia", Professor Yana immediately thought Jack was the Doctor. It wasn't made into a big deal though.
- In an episode of Get Smart Dr. T was a 10-year-old boy.
- In another episode, Max is teamed up with a British agent to guard a scientist - at show's end it was revealed the scientist was actually the guy who looked like a secret agent, and vice-versa.
- There's a Cheers where Rebecca marches into her new boss's office and takes an older gentleman for the boss. Turns out that's his assistant, and her new boss is the many-years-her-junior executive who hit on her in the elevator on the way up.
- On Frasier, Niles goes to see Maris's plastic surgeon, Mel Karnovsky. The man he thinks is the doctor turns out to be the assistant, and Mel is a young woman.
- In the pilot for Mad Men, Don introduces himself to a nondescript glasses-wearing man, thinking he was the client for Jewish-owned Menken's department store. As it turns out, it was the glamorous woman (Rachel) standing next to him who was the client—the man was a guy the lone Jewish employee at Sterling Cooper, brought in to make Rachel feel more "comfortable." He was so low on the totem pole that Don didn't recognize him. Rachel awesomely calls Don out on it.
- In The West Wing, a badly hungover Josh had trouble telling Joey Lucas (Marlee Matlin) - who he expected to be a man - from her assistant Kenny.
- Josh has to be cut a bit of slack, not just because he was hungover, but also because Kenny was doing all the talking, including the introduction "I'm Joey Lucas!". (Joey, it happens, is deaf, and Kenny was interpreting her sign language.)
- Sort of inverted in the Absolute Power episode "Spinning America", in which Charles is greeted at the American embassy by a young black woman, and tells her how impressed he is; he was expecting the American Ambassador to be an overweight middle-aged white guy. He is.
- An episode of Saved by the Bell had the characters eager to impress a prospective new student who was said to be a Child Prodigy. Unfortunately, they had heard conflicting stories about whether she's "eight and speaks four languages" or "four and speaks eight languages". They end up leading a perfectly normal four year old around the school, thinking she's smarter than they are (though considering their mistake, they might have a point there).
- Sister, Sister turns this one on its head in the SAT episode (well, the second SAT episode). The girls hire a tutor, and the man that arrives is older than they expected. He says as much, as he's just the district coordinator, then introduces the actual tutor...who's much younger than they expected.
- In Disgaea 3: Absence of Justice, Almaz Von Almandine Adamant, a wannabe hero with an awesome name, has just arrived in the netherworld, when he encounters a young boy with unruly hair, and a towering, bone-thin man dressed like Dracula (sans cape). He immediately assume that the man is a dangerous demon, and the child an innocent victim - and leaps to the rescue. The child, however, is Really Seven Hundred Years Old, and more important, is YOU - Mao, the protagonist, son of the local Overlord, and as bad as they come. The man is his butler.
- Amusingly enough, his initial judgement was completely correct - the 'Butler' is actually an evil villain, who has been raising and manipulating Mao for the last 200 years. But you don't learn that 'till MUCH later.
- Played deliberately in Eat Lead: The Return of Matt Hazard. Throughout the game, you're assisted by QA, who appears as a hot woman computer programmer. At the end, Matt is shown the real QA, and she looks exactly the same. Until a male voice tells her to move out of the way, revealing he is QA, and he used his assistant's likeness because he knew Matt would listen to a hot woman a lot more readily than to him.
- In the Knights of the Old Republic Game Mod Brotherhood of Shadow, you and Shadow can take a job helping a dance company audition for Czerka. A human greets you and does much of the talking, but Czerka's "leisure officer" is actually a Gammorean!
- Subverted in SSDD in the 'Anarchist Future' setting. The fox-guy is meeting his new boss, a big-name diplomat, and his bodyguard. The people who enters are a short, sharp-looking kangaroo, and a huge, hulking bulldog. He greets the bulldog with a handshake, and has it returned with delight - the diplomat states that "You're the first one who hasn't tried to shake hands with my bodyguard!"
- Happens very early in Arthur, King of Time and Space.
- In Hanna Is Not a Boy's Name, Toni greets Zombie and then Conrad as the paranormal investigator she hired. She thought Hanna was "their little brother or something."
- A doubleshot in the Kim Possible Robot Rumble episode: One of Dr. Possible's colleagues claims that his robot prototype was stolen by his assistant. . . or, by her boyfriend. Turns out that the colleague had stolen his assistant's robot and, on top of that, her "boyfriend" is another robot, also built by the assistant.
- In an episode of SpongeBob SquarePants, Plankton introduces a huge and threatening monster as his replacement in the Fry Cook Games, but it's revealed the big guy was just carrying the real contestant, Patrick.
- This is the entire purpose for the character of Leopold in The Simpsons: a gruff, angry man who comes in to Springfield Elementary School on at least two occasions to yell and rant about how the fun stops now and this is one principal/teacher you're not gonna SCREW with! Everyone's scared that he will be the new, no-nonsense authority figure...until he steps aside, introducing the more innocuous person (like Ned Flanders or Marge Simpson) who will really be taking over.
- In Futurama:
Leela: You know, this might actually work. The Omicronians seem to have trouble telling one person from another.
- Sasha Baron Cohen, playing Ali G, has been known to deliberately set up this trope to prevent interviewees from walking out on him:
With Ali G, the interview requests come from a fake British production company (United World Productions). And until just before the cameras roll, the interviewee is under the impression that the clean-cut, well-dressed director is going to do the interview and the baggy-clothed, wraparound-shades-wearing character carrying equipment is just part of the crew.
- According to Arrianus, this happened to Alexander the Great, as he met with Darius's daughter Strateira, who began to address Alexander's companion Hephaistion as Alexander. One of her subordinates corrected her. It seems they were Expecting Someone Taller. (Don't feel too bad, though; he too is Alexander.)
- In Norbert Wiener's biography, he says that when he first met Bertrand Russell, he was talking to someone that he presumed was an undergraduate. He later found out that it was in fact G. H. Hardy, one of Britain's foremost mathematicians.
- When future Boise State University starting quarterback Kellen Moore first visited the school, BSU's Coach Peterson initially thought his younger but larger brother Kirby was the quarterback. Now Kirby is a wide receiver for BSU.
- Around 500BC, the Etruscan King Porsena besieged Rome. Gaius Mucius snuck out of the city to assassinate Porsena while he was paying his soldiers. There was one problem: he had no idea what the king looked like and there were two men in fancy clothes handing out the money. Asking which one was the king would have exposed him as a foreigner, so Mucius took a guess and stabbed one at random. It turned out to be Porsena's secretary. The king sentenced him to be burned to death, but Mucius made a Badass Boast and stuck his right hand into the fire, earning himself the name Scaevola ("Lefty") and inspiring the king to let him go.
- At the 2010 FIFA World Cup draw, Netherlands manager Bert Van Marwijk asked a JFA representative if he had seen Japan's manager Takeshi Okada. The JFA representative was Takeshi Okada.
- Just before the World Cup, Germany played Argentina in a friendly. Thomas Müller gave his debut in this match and was also invited to the press conference after the game. Argentina's coach Diego Maradona thought he was a ballboy or something like that and asked him to leave. Later he explained sheepishly that he didn't know that this guy was a player of the German squad. A few months later, Müller got his revenge, scoring one goal against Argentina in the quarterfinals of the World Cup and creating another, thereby ending Maradona's career as a manager.
- When a new accountant entered Standard Oil he told one of the lowly workers to move an exercise machine from his office. He was talking to John Davison Rockefeller.
- Sir James Murray, compiler of the first edition of the Oxford English Dictionary, made use of volunteer contributors. His most prolific contributor was one Doctor W.C. Minor. After several years of correspondence Murray finally finagled an in-person meeting with Minor, coming out to the hospital that Minor listed as his residence. It turned out that Minor was not a doctor at this establishment, but a patient: he'd been institutionalized for years after killing a man. Murray's first meeting with Minor played out almost exactly like this trope: he was greeted by a doctor and a patient in the lobby of the asylum, and introduced himself to the doctor, thinking it was Minor.
- In Kon-Tiki, Thor Heyerdahl mentions how he met the president of Peru to discuss whether the Peruvian government would help (or at least permit) the raft's launch. Ushered from one impressively-dressed servant to another, he mistook several of them in turn for the man he'd come to see. By the time he met the president himself, Heyerdahl "just waited resignedly to see where he intended to take me."