Stranger in a Familiar Land
"...with no direction home, like a complete unknown; like a rollin' stone."—Bob Dylan, Like A Rollin' Stone
Known in real life as "Reverse Culture Shock" or "Re-entry Shock".
A character returns home after a long absence and finds that they no longer fit in, either because their home has changed too much over time, or (more commonly) because they themselves were changed by their experiences. In the latter case, it can lead to a But Now I Must Go sentiment. In less extreme cases, the character may eventually settle down again with some effort.
Prominent real-life examples are usually based on soldiers returning home from fighting in a war, most commonly the First World War, although this often also occurs with Vietnam vets. This is also relatively common among anthropologists and related fieldworkers who come home after a long stint in another society only to realize how bizarre their own culture really is.
Present in Western literature as early as in Homer's Odyssey, making it Older Than Feudalism. Related to You Can't Go Home Again, Never Accepted in His Hometown, and possibly So What Do We Do Now?. Occasionally overlaps with Where It All Began. Contrast Home, Sweet Home—although this trope may also make the character realize that his home is no longer the place where he used to live.
Often, characters placed in this situation will choose to put themselves back In Harm's Way.
Has absolutely nothing to do with Stranger in A Strange Land.
- Ayato in RahXephon, at several points in the story.
- This happens at the end of Season 2 of Monster Rancher, where Genki's sudden return to Earth after a good year or so in another world is portrayed to be as devastating as you would expect.
- In Mobile Suit Gundam, Amuro Ray goes to visit his mother on Earth, and ends shooting the Zeon patrol searching for him. His mother is dismayed by how much the war has changed her little boy, and they part less than amicably.
- In the Comic In A Comic of Watchmen, the survivor of a pirate raid desperately attempts to return home to warn of the pirates' imminent arrival. He clearly goes insane in his certainty he will be too late, and fails to recognize his own family on return.
- One of the actors in The Movie compared the superheroes' situation to 'War veterans trying to fit in with society'.
- Samaritan from Astro City is a particularly extreme example - he was born in a desolate future where humanity was about to die out, and was sent back in time to our era to change history. He eventually ended up in a fight with a villain who we assume had some sort of time-related powers, which got him sent back to his own time. He discovered that he'd succeeded in his mission, and that the future was now one where humanity was thriving, but the changes he'd made were so extensive that he'd become a temporal anomaly - the rest of his family were never born, and what was his home had become a taco stand.
- In a later story that tells of Samaritan's archenemy Infidel, the immortal Infidel traveled forward in time and built an empire in Samaritan's old world, only to be shocked and appalled at the ignominy when he finds that his home (which had been coincidentally built on the wreckage of Samaritan's) had also become the same taco stand.
- The DC Comics villain Superboy-Prime spent most of his existence trying to return to his home universe where all these annoying super-beings only existed in comic books. He finally succeeded at the end of the Final Crisis Mega Crossover. But when he got home,he discovered that his family and girlfriend had been following his "adventures" in the comics - all the atrocities he had committed, the tortures, the mutilations, and the at-least-eleven-digit body count he had racked up - and considered him a monster.
- The situation occurs in The Life and Times of Scrooge McDuck by Don Rosa. Scrooge leaves Scotland as a 13-year-old and briefly visits home when 18. In 1902, a 35-year-old Scrooge has earned a small fortune and attempts to resettle in Scotland. Having spend most of his life in the United States, South Africa, Australia and Canada, Scrooge has problems being accepted by traditional Scottish villagers. Soon leaving to go back to the United States, this time taking his two sisters with him.
- In the "Threeboot" version of the Legion of Super-Heroes, Triplicate Girl comes from a planet populated entirely by duplicates of herself. At one point, she tried to go back, only to find that the selves that had remained on the planet were now afraid of her, because her adventures with the Legion had changed her so much that she was no longer identical to them and they now saw her as an outsider.
- Happens to Travis Morgan whenever he returns to Earth in The Warlord. These visits just reinforce Morgan's belief that the Lost World of Skataris is where he truly belongs.
- In the comic Tron: Ghost in the Machine (a follow up to Tron 2.0, different continuity than Tron: Legacy), Jet is so shell-shocked by his trip through the computer and the revelation that Programs are sentient beings inside the system (and that he killed dozens of those and [possibly] some digitized Users) that he refuses to touch electronics for the next six months, and Alan has to haul him to a shrink.
- Both the non-canonical Ghost In the Machine and the Canon comic Tron: Betrayal imply this happened to Flynn (who behaved erratically and vanished in both continuities).
- Jason Aaron's Punisher MAX story arc "Frank" details Frank Castle's experiences with this back during the period between his return from Vietnam and the death of his family. He struggled to be a normal family man again, but the whole time he desperately craved a return to war and violence in general. Parallels are drawn between this period in his past and the present, where he's in prison.
- The Best Years of Our Lives.
- Cast Away.
- Cinema Paradiso.
- Hamburger Hill: Sgt. Worchester monologue about his experience from Anti-War Activists, his motivation to do another tour in 'Nam.
- Similarily, in Apocalypse Now, Willard is in a very similar state and mentions how he couldn't adjust to life at home. Worse still, he's clearly not satisfied with living in the Vietnam War, becomming even more of a stranger to it by the end.
- First Blood.
- A strange case in The Shawshank Redemption finds elderly parolee Brooks unable to fit in outside the walls of the prison in which he's spent the better part of his life. Spotlighted when he writes to his friends on the inside, commenting on how he saw a single automobile when he was a boy...and now they're all over the place.
- In Sniper, Thomas Beckett tells Richard Miller that he's going to retire from the Marine Corps and return home, then details all the things he's going to do once he gets there only to find out from Miller that most of the places he talks about don't exist any more.
- The Hurt Locker. When Will James' tour in Iraq is finished, he's obviously out of place in his civilian life. The guy even has a hard time grocery shopping. The movie ends with him going back to war, walking downrange in the bomb suit with a satisfied look on his face.
- Back to The Future sort of creates this situation in reverse. When Marty travels back in time thirty years, his own hometown becomes unfamiliar to him with some parts of it not built yet. Of course, in his case he's able to get back to the version he's used to.
- Sort of...somethings did change.
- In The Color Purple after a character returns from prison after so many years, she weeps after commenting that she doesn't know any of her friends or family anymore.
- In the French film I Have Loved You So Long, a woman is let out of prison after serving 15 years for murder. When she is released, her father is dead, her mother is senile, her friends have cut off all ties to her, and her baby sister has almost no memories of her whatsoever. Despite this, the woman's sister takes her into her home and tries to become a normal family again.
- In the film Gross Pointe Blank, the protagonist returns to discover that his childhood home is now a mini-mart. He comments, "You can't go home again, but you can shop there."
- Gives The Last Unicorn a very Bittersweet Ending. The eponymous unicorn can't stay among humans, since so few are pure enough to recognize her and treat her as an intelligent being deserves, but her time as a human has allowed her to know love and hurt and joy, things normal unicorns never experience, so she'll never again fit in among the shallow creatures that were once her own kind. Still, she thanks Schmendrick for the experience, with the claim that if she had to do it again she would. Also in the original novel.
- Thomas Wolfe's You Can't Go Home Again has elements of both that trope and this one.
- Elijah Baley at the end of Isaac Asimov's second Robot novel, The Naked Sun. Partially undermined at the beginning of the third novel, as Baley realizes he's not as foreign to the Cities as he had first believed.
- He'd spent his entire life there, but his son (and many of the next generation of Earthers) will be.
- Bill Bryson's I'm A Stranger Here Myself (called Notes from a Big Country outside the U.S.) describes his experiences living in America after 25 years in the U.K. It includes such anecdotes as walking into a hardware store looking for Spackle, and realizing that he had never been a homeowner in his native country before and didn't know what the stuff he needed was called:
"Hi, I'm looking for the stuff you use to fill dents in walls. My wife's people call it Polyfilla."
- In Shards of Honor, Cordelia Naismith of Beta Colony gets hit with this trope, which directly results in her becoming Cordelia Vorkosigan of Barrayar. It probably would have been less awful if she hadn't been Mistaken For Brainwashed at the same time.
- To some extent, Kareen Koudelka returning to Barrayar in A Civil Campaign after her year on Beta Colony.
- In David Eddings' Castle of Wizardry, the fourth book of The Belgariad, the group visits the home farm of The Hero, and he realizes that he's changed so much that he can't really expect to return there after their quest is completed.
- This happens a lot in the works of William Faulkner, but it's most prevalent in Flags in the Dust, where Bayard has to deal with coming home from WWI when his twin brother...didn't.
- Neil Gaiman's novels Neverwhere and Stardust. In the latter, the protagonist has changed to such a degree that several townspeople can't recognize him, and they treat him with great suspicion.
- Griboyedov's Woe From Wit is all about it.
- The Death of the Vazir Mukhtar, which is about Griboyedov, is all about it too, at least in the first half.
- In Joe Haldeman's novel The Forever War, the main character, a soldier in the war, repeatedly deals with culture shock because, thanks to relativistic time dilation, time passes more quickly on Earth than it does for him. During the novel, the main character experiences four years, but centuries pass on Earth. Word of God says that the novel was inspired by the author's experience of fighting in the Vietnam War and then returning home.
- Played to devastating effect with Mandella and Potter's return to Earth after their first tour of duty, during which thirty years have passed on Earth due to Time Dilation from Faster-Than-Light Travel. Mandella's father is dead; his mother is dying of cancer which The Government's socialized medicine system refuses to treat because she is not worth it, and she has taken a lesbian lover. Potter's parents are forced out of their home for defying government regulations, and end up on an agricultural commune under assumed identities. They are killed while Mandella and Potter are staying with them by raiders looking for food. Needless to say, the two re-enlist in the Army and get off the planet.
- At the end of Simon Hawke's the first Time Wars novel, The Ivanhoe Gambit, Lucas is discharged from the Temporal Corps as a reward for his actions. He finds he doesn't fit into 27th Century civilian life any more, and re-enlists at the start of the second book, The Timekeeper Conspiracy.
- Robert A. Heinlein uses this trope in some of his juvenile Science Fiction, when the protagonist has learned and grown from his - it's almost always a male - experiences, but the people back home have not.
- Glory Road: A non-juvenile example. The protagonist eventually returns to his home world after his adventures, finds life too tame (in one example, Eternal Sexual Freedom is averted), and in effect signs up for another hitch.
- Space Cadet: The protagonist, on returning from the Patrol's Boarding School on leave, has it brought home forcefully to him that his family is deeply ignorant of the realities of space travel and the Patrol, and that they don't want to change any of their ideas.
- Tunnel in the Sky: The protagonist's parents became Human Popsicles not long after he left for his final exam in Survival (a prerequisite for all of the professions connected with space exploration and colonization), because his father had an illness that just outside the current medical state-of-the-art's ability to cure. When he finally comes home some years later (the exam went bad in a big way), his parents can't quite wrap their heads around the fact that he's just short of being legally of age.
- Homer's The Odyssey. In this case, a spell was actually placed on the land so that Odysseus wouldn't recognize his homeland until he asked someone where he was.
- In Diana Wynne Jones's novel The Homeward Bounders, Jamie jumps to modern-day Earth after having walked the bounds for some years...and discovers that it's actually his own homeworld, just a hundred years on, and the boy he's made friends with is actually his own great-nephew. Heck, Him deciding that modern day London wasn't Home anymore was a major plot point.
- Andre Norton examples, often involving a Rip Van Winkle situation:
- The short story The Long Night of Waiting: Two nineteenth century kids were accidentally swept into Another Dimension through a Cool Gate. They returned to find that roughly ten years had passed for every day they spent on the other side, and it was now the late twentieth century. They went back through the Cool Gate, since it was closer to the life they were used to and they now had some friends there.
- Android at Arms: Several important persons from various species and cultures awaken on a Prison Planet and learn that they have been kidnapped, and apparently kept as Human Popsicles and replaced with Ridiculously Human Robots. It is established right away, from the most recent dates each can remember, that for some of them many years have passed, and all of them were abducted in the midst of time-critical situations. The protagonist (one of the more recent abductees) returns home to find that years have passed, and that his double is now in charge.
- Dread Companion: A governess and her charges go through a Cool Gate and return to a Rip Van Winkle situation.
- Judgement on Janus: After recovering from the Green Sick, Ashla attempts to contact her beloved younger sister, but learns that the physiological and psychological changes wrought by the illness are such that her sister no longer recognizes her, and that she cannot see her old home as home anymore.
- For that matter, Rip Van Winkle himself in the Washington Irving story of the same name.
- A recurring theme in the works of K.J. Parker. Parker loves to deconstruct the "local boy comes home and makes good" cliche.
- In The Lord of the Rings ending, this happens to all of the hobbits in varying degrees. Frodo has the most problems with the "happily ever after" part, although Pippin and Merry also have trouble with staying in the Shire for long, and in the end they spend their last years with Aragorn in Minas Tirith. Sam is the only one who seems to fully fit in again, but after his wife dies, he follows in Frodo's footsteps and sails away to the Undying Lands in the True West.
- The film shows this by putting Hobbits staring at their Gondor and Rohan military outfits.
- Tolkien was a veteran of World War I.
- The Sebastion Barry World War I era novel A Long Long Way uses both the changed protagonist and changed home themes. The hero is an Irish soldier on the Western Front who returns on leave to find Ireland utterly altered by revolution.
- Timothy Zahn's Cobra series deals with a group of cybernetically-augmented soldiers who meet with trouble when the war is won and they try to go home (partly because the changes include unalterable reflex actions); the first installment was a story ironically entitled "When Jonny Comes Marching Home."
- In All Quiet on the Western Front, written by World War I survivor Erich Maria Remarque (see the pattern here?), the main character Paul Baeumer visits his home to find that he actually longs for the front. In a letter to his mother, he writes that it "now feels like I am really returning home".
- In The Demonata by Darren Shan, the second book ends with Kernel returning home...however, due to time running differently in the the Demonata's universe, his parents had accepted his and his magically-transformed not-in-any-way-abrother's deaths years ago, end leaves again.
- Happens TWICE in Shan's first series. The first is when, in book eight, Darren returns to a city he met his first girlfriend in, but doesn't fit in (though it's implied that 1. the city isn't in the same country that Darren is from, due to the accents school students use 2. when he's going back to school, as a fifteen-year-old, when the last time he was in school was the age of twelve, i.e. fifteen years ago, he ends up looking like an idiot. Plus, being a vampire prince who has spent almost a decade doing vampire-y things probably hasn't helped him fit in to humanity well.
- The second is, in book eleven, Darren goes to his own hometown, and sees his sister, and other people, and decides it's better to not get involved in the lives of his former family and friends. Still, that doesn't stop the villains...
- Teppic in Pyramids, who finds it difficult getting used to the ways of Djelibeybi after being educated in Ankh-Morpork, and at one point refers to Ankh as "where I come from". In fact, he's the Trope Namer:
Teppic stared at him and thought "I am a stranger in a familiar land."
- Comes up a number of times in the books. The oft-quote reply is "you can't cross the same river twice".
Ridcully: Why not? This is a bridge.
- Brian from the Hatchet series, after being forced to survive in the woods decides the woods are better when he goes home.
- Edmund Dantes spent nearly fifteen years locked away on a prison island. Even though the point of his ruse as The Count was that none of his targets would know who he was till their end, even Mercedes has trouble recognizing him at first glance. It doesn't take her long to see through it, but nobody else does.
- Oz series: Ironically, Dorothy Gale fell to this trope. The longer she stayed in Oz, the harder it was to go back to Kansas. Eventually, instead of having to choose between Em and Henry in Kansas and the wonders of Oz, she brought Em and Henry to Oz, where Ozma set them up with a little patch of farmland in Munchkin Country.
- Moonraker. James Bond experiences this while in posh club Blades, imagining that his work as a Career Killer has somehow made him 'un-English' and that the other club members can perceive this.
- Happens to Graystripe twice in the Warrior Cats series - once when he comes back to ThunderClan after having left to raise his kits in RiverClan (where their mother had lived), and once when he is captured by Twolegs and is thought to be dead for over a year. Both times, though, it eventually fades away.
- Happens three times in The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. At the end of the first book, Arthur arrives home on Earth a few million years in the past and remains stranded in a cave for several years. In the fourth, he arrives again to find the present-day Earth exactly as it was before the Vogons destroyed it, save for the absence of any dolphins, and then again in the fifth book, he he travels to the sector where the Earth was only to find a Crapsack World by the name of Now What, with identical continents and extremely violent wildlife.
- In Jack Campbell's The Lost Fleet novel Invicible, Duellos talks with Geary about how he got this when on leave.
- Teal'c in Stargate SG-1, at times when he briefly returns to Chulak.
- Sam Tyler in Life On Mars, who finds himself unable to readjust to life in the present, after waking up from his coma, to the point that he doesn't notice any pain when he cuts his hand open, and ends up committing suicide to return to the life he had in 1973.
- Richard Mayhew in Neverwhere.
- Believe it or not, the cast of Gilligan's Island after they were returned to civilization in the 1978 reunion movie Rescue from Gilligan's Island. All the castaways find that returning to normal life was not as easy as they'd imagined: The Skipper can't go back to work because as a famous castaway he can't get insured; the Howells can no longer stand their rich snob friends; Mary Ann returns to her fiance but finds she no longer feels the same way about him; Ginger can't deal with how raunchy films have become in the past fifteen years; and the Professor finds his inventions have all already been invented and that his college is pushing him to use his fame to raise funds rather than conduct research.
- Rose Tyler from Doctor Who after the Doctor tricks her into going home to save her from certain death. Also his former companion Sarah-Jane Smith, who complains about how hard it was just waking up every day and knowing she'd never see the grandeur of space again.
- It is even more prominent with Donna. She only had one adventure with the doctor, maybe for about an hour, and she gets hooked. After declining his companion position, she regrets it and goes looking for him to see if the offer still stands.
- Odo in Deep Space Nine - spends years trying to find the race from whom he was parted as an infant, and then when he finally does find them, they're the enemy of everything he holds dear.
- Also Worf who finds that his humorless dedication to honor and duty has little to do with how Klingons in the Empire conduct themselves.
- Happens more than a few times in The Twilight Zone:
- In one episode, a man takes his bride-to-be back to his hometown, which is slightly different than he remembered it. No one recognizes him. Someone else is living in the family home. He finds out he's a robot.
- In another episode, a man wakes up after a night of drinking. When the woman next to him wakes up, she has no idea who he is, although he insists he's her husband. He spends the rest of the episode trying to prove who he is. In the end, the wife wakes up and the role has been reversed. No one knows who she is.
- When Adrian Monk gets re-instated with the SFPD he finds that just about nothing is familiar.
- John in Farscape when they finally get back to Earth in season 4. It's a combination of the world changing (his father points out 9/11 as a reason why countries can't cooperate the way John wants) and John being a completely different person due to his travels. This is partly why he leaves with Moya again, the other part being that Earth is in danger if he's there (and even when he's not, it turns out).
- Lucius Vorenus in Rome returns to his home and his family after being away for 7 years on military service. He found it difficult to re-adjust to civilian life while kept getting in conflict with his wife. Things got better for him, though not for long.
- The theme of "The Way Life's Meant To Be" by the Electric Light Orchestra, from their album Time. Done with the assistance of Time Travel.
- Sonata Arctica's "Replica" has a Shell-Shocked Veteran returning home from the war and not being able to live his own life anymore.
- The Charlie Daniels Band song "Still in Saigon" tells of a Shell-Shocked Veteran who has returned home from Vietnam, and has flashbacks to his Vietnam service triggered by otherwise ordinary events.
Religion and Mythology
- In The Bible, after the Babylonian exile.
- A major theme in the Underground roleplaying game from Mayfair Games. A Player Character begins as he's discharged from service as a genetically enhanced warrior conditioned to think of himself like an ultraviolent superhero, into a decaying ruins of American culture with civilians who fear and hate them and a corrupt and totalitarian government (an intentional reference to the state of Vietnam veterans coming home after the Vietnam War).
- A serious problem for the Lost who are always changed by their time in Arcadia, and often find that earth has changed in their absence.
- The original Fallout. Though perhaps in this case, it's not so much Vault Dweller himself that has the problem, it's the Overseer telling him he's changed too much and has to leave for the good of the community. You are, thankfully, given the option to shoot him in the face at that point.
- The option suggests the Overseer's assessment was right.
- Lampshaded in the sequel, Fallout 3, where Girl Next Door and possibly High School Sweethearts Amata calls the Lone Wanderer back to help her into stopping an outright civil war in their community, then, quoting almost verbatim the Overseer from Fallout, blames the civil war on him, banishing the Lone Wanderer forever. Owing to the sandbox quality of the modern Fallout games, you can still shoot her in the face
- 3 in 3 In Three
- The suggestion in Knights of the Old Republic is that after the game concluded the player character couldn't remain in the Republic with his/her knowledge and had to head off into the Unknown Regions to fight the True Sith.
- Link in Ocarina of Time. After being in limbo for 7 years he's grown up only to find that all his friends haven't. Turns out he's a different species to them anyway. They don't recognize him and many of them actually miss the child Link that left. Link seems to decide not to tell them.
- Jak and Daxter in Jak 2 They are in their old homeland only hundreds of years in the future.
- Which actually turns out to be Jak's real time as the whole game revolves around making sure his younger self gets sent back in time to help fulfill The Prophecy.
- Dragon Age II: all that's left of what Hawke's mother had in Kirkwall is a bitter brother to remind her of what she'd lost. When Aveline asks Hawke about returning to Lothering, he/she can reply that it's no longer home.
- In Quentyn Quinn, Space Ranger, thanks to temporal dilation, quirks in various forms of FTL travel, gravity wells and other Negative Space Wedgies, it's essentially the default outcome for all members of the Space Ranger Corps.
- Hudson in The Lydian Option attributes his return to the frontiers of space to a feeling that he was an outcast after human rights protests against actions he participated in during the Spiral War.
- In No Rest for The Wicked, after their rescue, the children still realize their father abandoned them deliberately, and are giving him wary looks in the midst of the embrace.
- This happened to Adam Dodd when he finally arrived back home after winning season one of Survival of the Fittest. He eventually moved across the country as part of his attempt to cope with his experiences on the island.
- The amateur film Alex Kralie wanted to make was about this trope. It soon became apparent that they have bigger concerns.
- In the Arthur episode "Buster's Back", Buster Baxter returns to Elwood after traveling with his father, a pilot. When he came back, a lot of things had changed, including his friends loving a clown show they all hated before he left.
- Teen Titans has this as the theme of the series finale ("Things Change").
- Zuko lives this trope for the first half of Season 3 of Avatar: The Last Airbender. While it wasn't exactly his home, Aang was rather alienated by the changes made to the Northern Air Temple so refugees could move in, but came to accept that it's their home now.
- In one episode of Justice League, it is revealed that Green Lantern's greatest fear is that this has happened to him, and that he's become nothing more than an extension of his ring.
- Parodied in South Park where a man was frozen in ice for three years and can't adjust to life in 1999.
- He even can't go back to his wife, as she is now happy with her new husband and their 5 and 8 year old sons.
- Garfield once found the now abandoned restaurant where he was born and found out his mother and her family still live there but he no longer fits.
- This happens to everyone, at some point, provided you live long enough. Either you change, or home changes, or both, but the effect is the same: a sense of displacement from your roots.
- People who own their own land don't suffer nearly as much from this as city people do. Provided that they can stay on their land.
- Nor do those who moved around often as a kid, simply because they have no true roots to be estranged from.
- People who own their own land don't suffer nearly as much from this as city people do. Provided that they can stay on their land.
- Returning war veterans often feel this way when they got home. It's not a coincidence so many of the Literature examples above were by veterans. One WWI song fits the emotion: " “How Are You Going To Keep Them Down On The Farm? (Once They've Seen Paris)”
- People who emigrate to another country will get this feeling after returning to their original country after many years. The language and customs have changed enough that you have a hard time communicating even if you are still a fluent speaker.
- Step 1: Go to college. Step 2: Graduate. Step 3: Wait two/three years. Step 4: Come back and watch as you recognize barely anyone.
- Some colleges actually put together pamphlets and other resources to help exchange students cope with "reverse culture shock" or "reverse homesickness." When a student spends a semester abroad, it's often enough for them to put down a certain amount of roots, so when they come back home, they miss it.
- On the flipside is going home for the summer and realizing that all your friends are from college and aren't in your home town.