What is so freaking funny about falling out of a pear tree?
May 23, 2011 7:15 PM   Subscribe

I think one of my favorite movies has a double entendre in it. I don't speak German and the subtitles don't shed any light on the subject.

One of my favorite movies is Das schreckliche Mädchen. It's in German with English subtitles. It's not a comedy, really... although there are some absurd parts that elicit a chuckle. The subtitles help.

Except for one part.

Towards the end of the movie, the townsfolk are gathered to await the arrival of a judge that will oversee a great court case. One of the townspeople runs up, and says...

"Judge so-and-so will not be here today. He fell out of a tree last night...while picking pears."

And then the entire town bursts into uproarious laughter. Little old ladies look somewhat embarrassed but are chuckling behind their hands. The vicar is guffawing. This is apparently the funniest thing that this little Bavarian town has heard in aaaaaages. But why?

The reaction to the pear-picking statement is so strong that it MUST be some sort of German double entendre. What does it mean? I'm prepared to blush and chuckle behind my hands if it's really racy.
posted by Elly Vortex to Media & Arts (9 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
I'm not a German speaker, but my best guess is this:

Why would someone be picking pears from a tree at night? Could the judge have been in the tree for some other less than noble purpose (peeping Tom maybe?) instead? And then after he fell out, he was too embarrassed to say the real reason why he was in the tree, so he claims to have been picking fruit instead.
posted by AMSBoethius at 7:31 PM on May 23, 2011

It appears as though "the pear doesn't fall far from the tree" is a variant of our "the apple doesn't fall far from the tree" through some Googling. Does that make sense with anything that happens in the movie? The German phrase is die "Birne fällt nicht weit vom baum", but that's machine translation.
posted by codacorolla at 7:44 PM on May 23, 2011

Is the movie set in a particular season? If there's snow on the ground, for example, the judge couldn't have been picking pears because there wouldn't be any on the tree.
posted by embrangled at 7:54 PM on May 23, 2011

I'm just going to take one more Google-based attempt at it, and say that there's a fairly well known German novel, that also was made into a film, called "Under the Pear Tree". Reading the description of "The Nasty Girl", this story is also about buried secrets and skeletons in the closet:

Could it be a nod to that? I know that a lot of stab-in-the-dark answers can be distracting, so I'll bow out. Really hoping a native German speaker comes by and provides an answer, however. I'm curious!
posted by codacorolla at 7:55 PM on May 23, 2011

In German "Birne" is a slang term for "brain"--as in "use your brain, dammit". My guess would be that the joke is of the judge doing something spectacularly stupid (falling out of the tree) while metaphorically trying to get smarter (pick up more pears).
posted by Phire at 7:59 PM on May 23, 2011

I haven't heard "Birnen pflücken" used directly as a double-entendre (is that the original German?) but I know that "Birnen" is a possible way to refer to the ass... I don't know if this would have been true in the time the movie is set or even if it's common, I just know that it occasionally shows up as an ass-descriptor in German women's magazines.
posted by besonders at 7:59 PM on May 23, 2011

It's possible that the subtitles are completely different from what is actually being said. Can you try to transcribe the original German? Or post the audio from that short snippet somewhere and link to it?

I wonder if the joke is not the pears part (if that is even what they originally say). Often subtitles are ordered differently from the original, so they might have said "He was picking pears and fell from the tree" and it could be the "fell from the tree" bit that was funny. (I googled "vom Baum fallen" to see if that was slang for insanity or something, but couldn't find anything.)

(I'm not a native speaker of German, but my German is very fluent and I lived there for five years. Of course, that doesn't mean I was exposed to Bavarian double-entendres very often, so could well be missing something relating to pears.)
posted by lollusc at 9:01 PM on May 23, 2011 [1 favorite]

Native speaker here. I don't see anything obviously funny about that sentence either, there is, to my knowledge, no hidden meaning to the phrase "picking pears". Birne can be a slang word for head, and in some contexts it could be understood to refer to breasts (just like apples, melons...), but that doesn't really make sense in this case either. I second lollusc's request for the original German audio!
posted by Skybly at 1:20 AM on May 24, 2011

You could make a pretty good (and untranslatable) fruit tree related double entendre with the word "runterholen", which can mean "to fetch something down" or "to masturbate". Is that in the original?
posted by emilyw at 2:00 AM on May 24, 2011

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