Fish Out of Water

Everything About Fiction You Never Wanted to Know.
Sometimes a fish is just a fish.

Riley: "What is that smell?"
Huey: "Clean air. My guess is we'll get used to it eventually."
Riley: "I hope so, this place stinks."

A character is placed in a situation completely unfamiliar to them. Humor and/or tension is created as the character adapts -- or doesn't.

Naturally, Fish Out of Water have a danger of becoming awkward the longer a show runs.

Specific variants:

If the character quickly adapts to the new conditions, it's Like a Fish Takes to Water. If however, they decide to change things to how they used to be back home they are a Blithe Spirit.

Contrast Outside Context Villain.

Examples of Fish Out of Water include:

Anime and Manga

  • One of the main characters in Planetes is Ai Tanabe, a Japanese girl who achieves her childhood dream of working in space. Working in a zero-gravity environment is new to her, and many of the earlier episodes are focused on her learning to adapt to life on board the station. The culture of an international space craft is just as foreign to her as the weightlessness of space.
  • Tower of God: Twentyfifth Baam grew up in a cave with his only contact to the human world being a girl that taught him everything he knew. He then stumbles into a place full of magic, people, conflict and rules (one which states that Baam's presence are against the law).
  • Full Metal Panic!!‍'‍s Sousuke Sagara, despite being ethnically Japanese, was raised in war-torn Afghanistan. His mission places him (and his two American squadmates) in Tokyo, where Sousuke is forced to adapt to life as a normal high school student. The spin-off series Full Metal Panic? Fumoffu focuses on the comedy of Sousuke's attempt to adapt to the cultural differences of life in Japan.
  • In Bizenghast, Edrear and Edaniel go to by a present for Dinah. Since Edrear has only ever left the Mausoleum for work, he knows nothing about human society. Because of this, Edaniel managed to get him in a skirt as part of his human disguise. Edrear also asked for directions to a store that was directly behind him(although this may be more to do with the fact that he is illiterate) and apparently put a quarter in a mailbox to see if a gumball came out.
  • Squid Girl features a literal fish squid out of water as the title character.
  • Croisée in a Foreign Labyrinth, which is about young Japanese girl who tries to adjust to her new life as a housekeeper in late 19th-century France.

Comic Books

  • Double Happiness. Being Chinese-American, Tom didn't fit in back in Boston. Then he moves in with relatives in San Francisco's Chinatown, and he doesn't fit in with them either.

Fan Works

  • The four in With Strings Attached spend the entire book being outsiders in a number of different places. This creates problems most of the time but ends up working to their advantage at the end, because the skahs never do understand them and hence drastically underestimate them. Conversely, the four end up understanding the skahs well enough to use crowds of them for their own purposes.
    • The Hunter also talks about how he first arrived on his planet and how he barely survived that first year. Twenty years later, he's quite well adapted.
  • Luso in The Tainted Grimoire. He has however been shown slowly adjusting as he learns about the world he is in.

Film -- Animated

  • Enchanted[context?]
  • Happens literally in Chicken Little. He doesn't even speak English.
    • There is an aversion in that the main character is the most capable, but he is still one of the school outcasts.

Film -- Live Action

  • The Blind Side: Michael, when he first arrives at his new private religious school, and when the Tuohys first invite him into their home.
  • Crocodile Dundee
  • The Beverly Hillbillies and Green Acres featured premises which were the exact inverse of one another. The former was about country folks living in the city while the latter was about city folks living in the country.
  • Being There. Chance - who lived his whole life inside a townhouse and only knew of the outside world through television - adapts so quickly, and appears to be someone who knows what he's doing, that in the novella no one realizes he was this in the first place.
  • In the Loop: All of the British characters in the US, but especially the hapless Simon Foster.
  • The Man Who Fell to Earth deals with this a lot.
  • The plot of Jean De Florette centers around a former tax collector from the city inheriting his mother's property in the country, and his attempt to spend the rest of his days living there with his wife and daughter as a farmer. He believes that by investing in large projects based on his studies of farming-related statistics, he can become successful in only a few years. He does not succeed.
  • Popeye Doyle in Marseilles in The French Connection II.
  • In Beverly Hills Cop; Axel Foley, a streetwise Detroit police detective, must solve a murder case in swanky Beverly Hills.


  • Gulliver's Travels has Gulliver a fish out of several kinds of water.
  • The Vorkosigan Saga provides several.
    • Cordelia Vorkosigan, nee Naismith never wholly fits the niche of Barrayaran Vor-class Womanhood, and rarely bothers to try beyond letting herself be dressed "properly". Indeed an exasperated "Barrayarans!" remains her favorite explitive for over thirty years.
    • Ethan Urquhart of Athos, a literal No Woman's Land, gets sent on a mission to find ovaries. He has never even seen what they are attached to.
  • The Shadowleague books give us Zavahl and, to a lesser extent, Toulac in Gendival- the hundreds of different sentient creatures throw them off.
  • In The Hobbit, main character Bilbo Baggins is dragged from his comfortable lifestyle onto a quest to kill a dragon, going from unwilling millstone to de facto leader over the course of the story.
  • The very first Jeeves and Wooster story, "Extricating Young Gussie", throws British Upper Class Twit Bertie Wooster into New York, where pretty much everything weirds him out (the early hour that commuters get up for work, the fact that there are male bartenders, and vaudeville). Subverted in later stories; while he ends up staying in New York for some time, he grows used to it almost instantly and makes as many friends as he had in England.
  • In Gene Stratton Porter's Freckles, Freckles's arrival in the Limberlost swamp gives him weeks of terror. Face Your Fears works, however, and by the time he gets his first pay and kills his first rattler, he's adapted to it.

Each hour was torture to the boy. The restricted life of a great city orphanage was the other extreme of the world compared with the Limberlost. He was afraid for his life every minute. The heat was intense. The heavy wading-boots rubbed his feet until they bled. He was sore and stiff from his long tramp and outdoor exposure. The seven miles of trail was agony at every step. He practiced at night, under the direction of Duncan, until he grew sure in the use of his revolver. He cut a stout hickory cudgel, with a knot on the end as big as his fist; this never left his hand. What he thought in those first days he himself could not recall clearly afterward.

  • Leo Colston, in The Go-Between, comes from a modest background and is completely lost among the guests at a grand country house. That and his naivety makes it all the easier for him to be manipulated by others.

Live-Action TV

  • Lincoln Heights, the Sutton kids are very much so out of their element upon moving to the overwhelmingly black Lincoln heights after having spent their entire lives in a mostly white suburb. It takes them an entire season but they learn to love it.
  • Northern Exposure
  • Men in Trees, which, admittedly, is just a lame attempt to bring back the charm of Northern Exposure by crossing it with Sex and the City.
  • Firefly. Simon Tam takes on this role as a rich young doctor forced to go on the run with the crew of Serenity because he broke his sister out of a government instituion. He doesn't adapt to life on board immediately, and misses his old life. River, on the other hand, never shows fish-out-of-water tendencies- to the point where Simon says that the ship is more home to her than any other place.
  • Due South
  • Its About Time, a '60s sitcom where astronauts travel to prehistoric times. In the final season, the astronauts return to the present with a caveman family.
  • 55 Degrees North (at least for its first series)
  • Hard Time On Planet Earth
  • Life On Mars
    • also its sequel, Ashes To Ashes, to a lesser extent.
  • Phil of the Future (The entire Diffy family)
  • McCloud
  • Teal'c in Stargate SG-1
    • Mostly played for laughs, but with a few poignant moments. Teal'c has to live on a military installation in Colorado a lot of the time, but sees very little of what normal civilian life in modern America is like. It doesn't help that he has a gold emblem on his forehead. Much of what he learns about modern life comes from fiction: when asked if he has ever heard of a virgin birth, the example he thinks of is Anakin Skywalker. In one episode he tried to get an off-base apartment and have something like a normal life, and we get a full Fish Out of Water episode, complete with a Muggle love interest, until the corrupt spy group tries to take advantage of his weakness and assert that Status Quo Is God.
  • Farscape for most of the series run, though the "fish" character changed over time.
  • The FX Reality Show 30 Days, from the guy who did Super Size Me pits different people, and occasionally the narrator himself, into living the titular number of days in a different enviroment then they're used to. Often these people will be placed at the opposite end of a controversial issue than where they were from to learn about the other side of an issue.
  • Dieter, the German immigrant in Killinaskully regularly finds himself flummoxed by the bizarre goings on in the titular village. However, this seems to be less because Dieter is the Only Sane Man and more just that his own cloudcuckooland is so different from those of Ireland.
  • The non-X-Series transgenics in Dark Angel, specifically Joshua at the beginning of season 2.
  • Houston Knights
  • Ryan on The OC, a poor kid from the wrong side of the tracks is taken in by a rich family and introduced to the wealth-obsessed lifestyle of Newport Beach.
  • The Stig on Top Gear, to the point of being an Idiot Savant. When behind the wheel, however, he's more than in his element.
  • The Beverly Hillbillies
    • And, from the same production team, Green Acres.
      • Another spinoff, Petticoat Junction, had an arc dealing with an Air Force pilot landing and staying in rural country.
  • The one-shot announcer Lance-Corporal Collier from Rutland Weekend Television. He was originally brought in for a sketch, and, as he's not shy to point out, doesn't know a whole lot about announcing.

Collier: The thing is I'm not used to this, I mean, they don't teach you much about television announcin' in the army, I mean, maybe they should, you never know...

  • The main character of Unnatural History, Henry Griffin, lived in pretty much everywhere on Earth except in urban society, which is where the show takes place.
  • Perfect Strangers pretty much ran on this trope.
  • Series 7 of Red Dwarf has Kochanski, albeit a version of her from a parallel universe. As a result, she knows the characters but they have completely opposite personalities to how she's used to them. Much of the series is about how she feels lonely and doesn't fit in.
  • Cole (the Red Ranger) from Power Rangers: Wild Force is this, an - adopted - member of an isolated African tribe who finds himself in a large American city. He catches on fast, though.


  • Yes bassist Chris Squire called his 1975 debut solo album Fish Out Of Water, a multi-reference to his nickname, "Fish", his being away from Yes and as a solo artist, and his trying out different styles and instrumentations on the album from what he was used to. The cover of the album shows Chris standing inside a fish's skeleton.

Newspaper Comics

  • The original premise of the long-running newspaper comic strip Blondie was that Dagwood was a trust fund baby disowned by his family (for marrying Blondie) and forced to live a Salaryman's life. While the premise never explicitly changed, it has eroded significantly over the years and is lost on most modern readers.

Play By Post Games

  • A vast number of the characters on Shadowside have this premise, and most of the subtropes are covered.


  • In Our American Cousin the titular Vermont native Asa Trenchard tries to fit in at Trenchard Manor, which is very British.

Video Games

  • Tidus in Final Fantasy X is a fish out of water as he is actually from an imaginary version of a long-since-destroyed city. The only time he feels comfortable in the new world is while playing blitzball, an underwater sport common to both his world and Spira.
  • Merrill in Dragon Age 2 is a Dalish elf who was thrown out of her clan and forced to live in the elven ghetto of a human city. Her inexperience with human society (among other things her assumption that getting mugged is the "Alienage greeting" and nobody has mugged her because they don't like her) is played for laughs, as she remains oddly cheerful about it all.
    • Feynriel. The poor kid doesn't fit in anywhere. His Dream Weaver powers set him apart from other mages, and the Circle, the Templars, and the Dalish are either unable or unwilling to help him master them. Even if Feynriel goes to Tevinter to learn how to control his powers he feels isolated because he isn't a ruthless power-hungry bastard like most magisters. That's not even touching his Human-Elf parentage, and the rejection he gets from both sides. Even Merrill disdains his "half-breed" nature.
  • Touhou Project had newcomer Miko Sanae arrive from the "outside world" (I.E. normal, mundane earth), to Gensokyo because of her Physical God deities needing to travel to someplace with enough faith to sustain their existence, which the modern world was lacking in. She is repeatedly noted as "lacking in the common sense of Gensokyo" (to which many fans noted that "sanity is a weakness in Gensokyo"), and when she eventually started trying to do "miko stuff" like go on Youkai extermination trips, she gained notariety for starting the "sadist" meme from appearing to enjoy her fight with Kogasa a little too much, and when she met a shapeshifting Nue youkai who was trying to transform into her fears, Sanae was elated to have found a "real live space alien!", and wanted to get her picture taken with her.
  • Flora, Layton's ward in the Professor Layton series, freely admits to this trope when she's fascinated by such mundane things as a simple country fair. Justified, since she's spent the last several years living in a village full of Ridiculously Human Robot servants.

Web Comics

  • Everyone in Earthsong is like this.
  • Mentl, a street musician from our world who finds himself in a world of Medieval Fantasy in The Challenges of Zona. He adapts fairly quickly due to his meeting and falling in love with the title character and his musical knowledge and ability giving him magical powers although there are still a few bumps here and there.
  • Secret of Keychain of Creation is essentially a nice girl, but because she allowed her name to be taken to become an Abyssal, she's become a threat to all of existence. Plus, she's forced to kill occasionally or her weapon will kill her in her sleep.
  • Gai-Gin: Gin is an American university student adapting to life in Japan.
  • John Silver in The Second Crimean War (an American from Miami stranded in the middle of a Ukrainian civil war in the dead of winter) is an example of this.
  • Jack from Thornsaddle is a muggle-born (who knows nothing of wizards) in his first year at a wizard school. Much of the comedy comes from his tendency to deconstruct many of the facets of wizard society.

Web Original

  • With the Angels.
  • Phase, in the Whateley Universe. Ultra-rich, spoiled teenager from a mutant-hating family becomes a mutant and gets kicked out. This kid who has been waited on hand and foot ends up at Whateley Academy, surrounded by mutants and struggling to fit in. Not usually played for humor.

Western Animation

  • Fry in early Futurama; he adapted surprisingly quickly. Other characters go through similar experiences, including his 20th century girlfriend and Zoidberg, a hideous lobster alien who serves as the company physician but understands practically nothing about Earth culture or human physiology.
  • Starfire in Teen Titans.
  • My Gym Partner's a Monkey, with a human attending a school full of Funny Talking Animals.
    • One such animal, Bull Sharkowski, is a literal Fish Out of Water, and has to carry a headset filled with water in order to breathe.
  • The titular character of Jimmy Two-Shoes in Miseryville.
  • The Little Mermaid played the trope pretty literally; Ariel was so miseducated about the human world that she did wacky things like combing her hair with a dinner fork.
  • Played with in American Dad when the Smiths go to Saudi Arabia:

Francine: *screams in frustration hard enough to break Klaus's bowl*
Klaus: Your family may have moved to Saudi Arabia, but I'm the REAL fish out of water! Haha! ...Seriously, I'm dying.

  • Kappa Mikey, who features an American cartoon actor in a Japanese anime show after winning a contest. It is even explained that Mikey got his nick name because of the Kappa, literally a Fish Out of Water.
  • Darwin from The Amazing World of Gumball is a more literal example of this trope. Darwin used to be the family's pet fish until he grew legs and got too big to be in his bowl all the time.

Real Life

  • Surprisingly, there are a few fishes that can literally pull this off:
    • Mudskippers, a species of mangrove-dwelling gobies that can stay active out of the water for extended times.
    • Catfishes from the genus Clarias can jump out of the water and "walk" around, as are Asiatic snakeheads. This trait is also part of the reason why the snakehead thrives as an invasive species In America.
    • Lungfishes (except the non-African ones) can hibernate in hardened mud for months at times.