I vaguely remember a German expression that means "not the sharpest tool in the shed" that can be literally translated to "not the brightest light on the Christmas tree". Is there actually a saying similar to the one I recall, and what is its exact phrasing?
There exists the expression
nicht die hellste Kerze am Baum (sein)
which translates to "Not (being) the brightest candle on the tree", presumably a christmas tree, as we don't put candles on trees that often.
It means someone is not very smart (or bright).
There also exist Variations:
nicht die hellste Kerze (sein)
nicht die hellste Kerze auf der Torte (sein)
... auf der Torte = ... on the cake
There are a few other expression linking intelligence to light, eg:
- Nicht der/die hellste sein: Not being the brightest
- Keine grosse Leuchte sein: Not being a big lamp
I know the expressions mentioned in the previous answers; but in parts of Eastern Germany, where I am from, the following expressions are more common:
- Er ist nicht der hellste in der Birne.
- Sie ist nicht die hellste in der Birne.
Notice that Birne does not only name the fruit (pear), but that it is also used to refer to a light bulb and, colloquially, to a person's head.