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"The Simpson story begins back in the old country. I forget which one, exactly."
Abe Simpson, The Simpsons

So, you want to introduce a European immigrant to your North American-based show. You want the character to get up to lots of Fish Out of Water fun as his crazy traditions clash with modern American life, marvel at the amazing wealth of Americans and contrast it with the poverty of his homeland, and provide incisive Whoopi Epiphany Speeches about how different life was back in his one-tractor peasant town, all while talking in an outrageous accent. So, their homeland needs to be poor, backward, simple, oppressive, rustic and pastoral, with crazy traditions and, of course, a distinctive accent.

There's just one problem - if you claim this geographic hodgepodge is a real country, you'll get a lot of complaints from nationals of that country, either because you've totally misrepresented their traditions, or because you've just described them as a bunch of uneducated peasants. So, the best route to take is to ignore the country issue altogether: Whenever you need to have your character talk about his origins, have them call it "the old country".

The old country is usually a Ruritania or Uberwald, with splashes of Bavaria, the Mediterranean, the Former Soviet Union, Scandinavia and Scotireland. Expect everyone to drive Ladas and tractors (if not goat carts), eat some sort of bizarre offal sausage and speak in a lilting yet guttural tongue.

Examples of The Old Country include:


Comic Books

  • There's a short story in Neil Gaiman's The Sandman in which a modern-day grandfather tells his teenage granddaughter a folk tale from the old country and then hints at the end that the tale's hero was, in fact, himself as a young man. Also, apparently their entire family are werewolves.

Literature

  • The titular character in Borgel by Daniel Pinkwater claims to be from The Old Country (more recently, he lived in The Old Apartment in The Old Building in The Old Neighborhood). His Old Country is in Another Dimension instead of Europe, but otherwise is very much a parody of this trope; everyone there is so poor they all sleep in ditches and use dead skunks for clothing, they speak a language that sounds like someone preparing to spit, and Borgel has a number of stories from there which are generally total nonsense.

Live Action TV

  • House and Scrubs have both featured doctors, struggling with their Worthless Foreign Degrees, who merely came from the old country.
  • Let us not forget Latka Gravas of Taxi fame, whose country was entirely fictional and rather vague. Probably the Trope Codifier for the current era.
  • The original All That had a recurring character named Ishboo (played by Kenan Thompson) who fit this trope.
    • His home country was actually called "Foreign Land", meaning that the actual name of the country was Foreign Land.

Professional Wrestling

Video Games

  • In Grand Theft Auto 4, the homeland of protagonist Niko Bellic is not named, and he and his cousin refer to "the old country". However, they speak Serbian in-game.
    • He is quick to correct people that is definitely not from Russia though.

Western Animation

  • Rolf from Ed, Edd 'n' Eddy claims to be from "the old country", which is a land of strange folk tales, ghastly traditions involving seafood, and lederhosen. Perhaps he's actually from Cloudcuckooland?
    • Rolf is based (and exaggerated) from childhood experiences of the show's creator, Danny Antonucci, himself the child of Italian immigrants, dealing with the culture shock that sort of upbringing provides.
  • Didi's parents on Rugrats are like this. Especially her father. Apparently, in the old country, a woman gives birth in the potato fields, puts the child on her back and keeps going. Yeah.
    • He also claims thay grew up "Sleeping with the goats" at which point Didi states that he actually came from a well-off family, and wouldn't know a goat if it bit him.
  • Parodied on The Simpsons - see the page quote.
  • Tish's family in The Weekenders. Again, it is just called The Old Country and nobody knows which one. When a television report was done on Tish, they said experts were unable to locate on a map or even pronounce the country. Presumably it no longer exists...
  • In Kick Buttowski, this is where Gunther's family is from. Aparently it is set somewhere Norse by Norsewest, where the people still follow the old ways. One episode takes place there, and it is indeed called The Old Country.

Real Life

  • There's actually a region in northern Germany called Altes Land. It's known primarily for its fruit orchards.
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