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Hi. Welcome to the podcast, “A Thousand Words.” Today’s Friday, October 26th.
In my last podcast, I talked about a job I had where I rode horses. Today, I’m going to talk about another type of horse, a gift horse, and what people say you shouldn’t do if someone gives you one.
So… There’s this very old saying in English – maybe you’ve heard it: “Don’t look a gift horse in the mouth.” And I think when people say it, they’re usually shaking their finger at the other person; like with most old sayings, it just seems  so much more effective that way.
But… is it clear what the saying means? Because for the longest time I never understood what it meant. I could never figure out  what a gift horse was, and why would I want to look in its mouth. The only thing I knew about it was that it was something that had a mouth you could look into. And then, one day, it suddenly dawned on me  – of course: a horse that someone gives you as a gift. It’s right there in the words – gift… horse. I just never put the two together. So… if someone gives you this kind of gift, a horse for free, don’t open its mouth and go looking around inside it; don’t go looking to see how old it is, or if it’s got bad teeth or bad breath . Just take it. It’s a gift, right?
But what if I don’t really want a horse? Or what if I don’t have room for a horse? I don’t have room for a horse! Those things need a lot of space. What if the horse is really aggressive, or I don’t like the look in its eyes. What if it doesn’t like me? Should I still take it?
What if my next door neighbor no longer wants his ratty old clothes  or his unreadable paperback books, and leaves them at the foot of my door with a note – “thought you might like these”? Do I need to take them? Maybe he just wants to get rid of them .
I understand the saying… I just don’t know how much I agree.
A few years ago, I was in the city waiting for a tram, rocking back and forth on my feet , passing the time in one of my favorite waiting-for-a-tram things to do – watching people. It was early in the evening, late spring, a day both sunny and breezy. There were many people out, some waiting for buses or trams to take them back home, others moving about to who knows where.
There was a man not far away who was sitting cross-legged on the ground. He had on worn clothes , long unwashed hair, and in front of him there was a fast food cup with some coins  in it and a small piece of cardboard  against his legs with hand-written words in English: will work for food. His head was looking down at a comic book on his lap , and when he looked up I saw his eyes were on two women who were standing outside an Italian restaurant down the street. They were both in their early 30s, and one of them had a plastic sack in her hands with the restaurant’s logo.
After their three-kiss goodbye, the women parted , and the one with the sack walked toward us. When she saw the cardboard, she stopped.
“You look hungry,” she said to him.
He shrugged his shoulders  without looking up from the comic book.
“If you want,” she said, and raised  the sack, “you can have the rest of my sandwich.”
He looked up at the sack and then back down at the book.
“What kind of sandwich is it?” he asked, and I recognized his American west coast accent.
“Sorry?” she asked.
“What’s in the sandwich?” he asked.
“Umm, aubergine,” she said. “... tomato… mozzarella…”
“Any spread  on it?” he asked.
“Spread?” she asked.
“Anything to make it moist ?”
“Moist?” she asked.
“To make it wet.”
“A wet sandwich, you mean?” she asked.
“No. You know, like mayonnaise.” He looked up at her. “You call it mayonnaise here?”
“I think it has olive oil.” She said. She looked away for her tram.
“And the bread?” he asked.
She looked down at him. “Focaccia.”
“Focaccia,” she nodded. 
“Never heard of it,” he said.
She shrugged at him.
“It would be pretty strange if I didn’t take your food, huh?” he said.
“I’d have to have a real good reason not to take it, right?” he said.
But when he didn’t give her a reason and looked back down at the pictures in the book, she told him that if he thought differently about the sandwich, she would be standing over there.
As she walked away, he called out after her: “That’s very kind of you. Thanks for the thought.” I saw her roll her eyes, and she moved to a spot at the other end of the tram stop.
Not long after, a pair of well-dressed women walked up to her, bright smiles on their faces and bright sunlight coming through clouds on the covers of some pamphlets in their hands. One of the women offered her a pamphlet. She looked at it, smiled politely, and shook her head no. But the women did not go away. They offered her the sunlight pamphlet again. They were all speaking but I couldn’t hear what they were saying.
A tram came from behind them. She walked away from the women to an area where she knew the back door would open. But before the tram stopped, she looked back at the man and started to raise the sack again. But she stopped; a small smile warmed her face.
A coin bounced  inside the fast food cup. I turned and saw the man on the ground look up at a pair of shiny shoes walking away from him. He mumbled  thank you, without looking at the coins, and then went back to the pictures in his book.
The woman was now inside the tram moving to find a seat. The tram’s orange lights began flashing, and as it moved away from the stop I watched her, through the fogged  windows, turn and walk toward the rear . This was still at a time when trams in Zürich had garbage bins  inside, and I saw her raise the sack and then push it down, sandwich and all, deep into the thin metal bin.
The garbage bin, without a mouth of its own to speak with, was in no position to say no to this gift horse.
Thanks for listening.
You can find all our episodes on our website podclub.ch or by downloading our app. You can also download our vocabulary trainer to help you practice the new words you hear, and you can follow me on Instagram using the hashtags #podclubrichard and #athousandwords.
I’ll be back on November 9th for another story, about public transportation and a neighbor I once had, and how the two are connected.
Bye for now.