'The Unwelcome Guest' | Circle Round 37

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(Sabina Hahn for WBUR)
(Sabina Hahn for WBUR)

"The Unwelcome Guest" is now an illustrated picture book. Buy it here.

Ever heard the expression, “You can’t judge a book by its cover”?

It can be tempting to form an opinion about something based on how it looks. But more often than not, it’s what’s inside that counts.

And in our story, an entire town of people learn that lesson… in a most delicious way.

This week's tale is called “The Unwelcome Guest.” Versions of this tale originally come from the Middle East, where it’s one of many stories featuring a character named Nasruddin, a wise man who lived long ago.

Voices in this episode include: Elle Borders, Evan Casey, Laura Gardner, Mitchell Hébert, Maurice Parent, Craig Wallace, Thom Whaley, Jacob Yeh, and Richard Kind. Kids, you can hear Richard’s voice on “Summer Camp Island” on the Cartoon Network. And if you haven’t yet seen the movie, Inside Out, Richard portrays the one and only Bing-Bong. This story was adapted for Circle Round by Rebecca Sheir and edited by Jessica Alpert. Original music and sound design by Eric Shimelonis. Our artist is Sabina Hahn.

ADULTS! Print PRINT THIS so everyone can color while listening. We’re also keeping an album so share your picture on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram or Pinterest, and tag it with #CircleRound. We'd love to see it! To access all the coloring pages for past episodes click HERE. Our resident artist is Sabina Hahn and you can learn more about her HERE.

Things To Think About After Listening

Have you ever judged something or someone on appearance alone? Maybe you thought a food would taste yucky because it wasn’t especially pretty but it turned out to be delicious! Or you assumed a person was really serious, because they weren’t very smiley when you met but then you learned they were just having a rough day.

Think about that time, and share your story with someone you like to have fun with. Talk about what happened, and what you learned about judging a book by its cover.

(TDrivas/ Creative Commons)
(TDrivas/ Creative Commons)

Musical Spotlight: The Oud
With 11 or 13 strings running up and down its short, fretless neck and gourd-shaped body, the oud is believed to have originated in Persia more than 3,500 years ago. The Arabic word “oud” translates to “stick” or “from wood”; appropriately, oud makers use 15-25 rounded strips of wood to craft the backside of the instrument, and one flat sheet of wood to create the front. Traditionally, oud players have plucked or strummed the oud’s strings with a ‘plectrum’; a long, flat pick that resembles a nail file. Because the oud is central to music from the Middle East — the region where our story originates — we chose to use this deep, round-sounding instrument to underscore Nasruddin’s adventures.

Story Transcript
NARRATOR: The town beside the sea was abuzz with the news:

The governor was holding a grand banquet... and everyone was invited. The artists and accountants… the librarians and lawyers… the taxi drivers and teachers… everyone!

But no one was as excited… as Nasruddin. The wise man owned a vineyard at the edge of town, and the governor would be serving Nasruddin’s wine at the feast!

The day of the big event, Nasruddin woke up extra early. He dug deep into his closet and began rummaging around.

NASRUDDIN: (as he rummages around) Alright, where are you? No… not that one… no, not that - woah! Ha ha! There are you are!

NARRATOR: Nasruddin smiled as he pulled out his long, red, silk coat. It was his favorite piece of clothing, embroidered with clusters of bright purple grapes.

Nasruddin only wore the coat on very special occasions... and definitely not at the vineyard, where he spent most days kneeling in the dirt and sweating in the sun as he trimmed vines and picked grapes, before crushing them to make wine!

So that morning, Nasruddin laid the coat on his bed… along with a nice shirt, perfectly-pressed pants, and his shiniest shoes.

NASRUDDIN: I can hardly wait for tonight! I’ll come right home after work, I’ll get all scrubbed up, and then head straight to the party! Ha ha ha!

NARRATOR: Then, he set off for the vineyard.

Nasruddin worked especially hard all day, and when he finally looked up at the clock…

NASRUDDIN: (gasps)

NARRATOR: … the governor’s banquet was starting in fifteen minutes!


NARRATOR: Nasruddin looked down at his clothes. Smudges of mud and splotches of grape juice were everywhere. The front and back of his shirt were clammy with sweat.

NASRUDDIN: Oh ! With just fifteen minutes until the party starts, there’s no time for me to go home, get cleaned up, and change into my fine silk coat! (beat) I’ll just have to go as I am.

NARRATOR: Nasruddin saddled up his donkey and headed to the governor’s mansion.

When he arrived, he tied the donkey to a tree, and walked toward the doormen. As he approached, the men scrunched up their faces.

DOORMAN 1: (to one another, not loud enough for Nasruddin to hear) Do you smell what I smell?

DOORMAN 2: (sniffs) It’s almost like (sniffs again) squished grapes...?

DOORMAN 1: (sniffs) ...and sweat!

NARRATOR: Not hearing what they were saying, Nasruddin gave the men a friendly wave, and breezed through the door. When he stepped inside the banquet hall, he saw the entire village milling about... everyone dressed in their very finest clothing...… and sipping on Nasruddin’s wine!

Nasruddin had always been a friendly, talkative sort, so he began making the rounds.

NASRUDDIN: (waving at different people) Hi! How are you! Hi, hello!

NARRATOR: But as he greeted his friends and neighbors, he noticed… no one greeted him back. Instead... they turned away.

NASRUDDIN: Huh. What’s gotten in to everybody?

NARRATOR: To make things worse, not even the butlers carrying trays of food would come near him. Nasruddin had been too busy to eat that day, so his mouth watered as he watched the elusive parade of meats, cheeses, breads and spreads.

NASRUDDIN: Well, this is weird. This is just plain weird! At the very least, the governor will talk to me! I mean, he is serving my wine, after all...

NARRATOR: But as Nasruddin approached, the governor looked the wise man up and down, frowned, then waved at someone across the room and hurried away.

NASRUDDIN: What’s going on? What’s the matter with these people?

NARRATOR: When the bell rang for dinner, a scowling butler ushered Nasruddin to a corner of the room, as far away as possible from the governor.

BUTLER:  Right this way, please.

NARRATOR: As Nasruddin took his seat, the butler held out a bundle of bright white napkins.

BUTLER: Here. I can’t say these will hide the smell... but at least they’ll cover up those stains.

NARRATOR: Rolling his eyes, the butler dropped the napkins in Nasruddin’s lap, turned on his heel, and walked away.

Suddenly, Nasruddin understood.

NASRUDDIN: (realizing, to himself) Ha! So it’s my clothing everybody has a problem with! I can’t believe this. Seriously? The governor’s invited the entire town, everybody, rich and poor, to his party. But yet, because of what I’m wearing, I’m an unwelcome guest?

NARRATOR: Now, remember: Nasruddin was a wise man. And that’s when he had… an idea.

NASRUDDIN: (to himself) A-ha!

NARRATOR: Before dinner was served, Nasruddin slid his chair away from the table and slipped out of the banquet hall. As he exited the mansion, he took a deep breath of the warm night air… and smiled.

NASRUDDIN: (smiling) Well, I may be an unwelcome guest... but I’ll bring back a guest that they’ll most definitely welcome! I just have to act fast!

NARRATOR: Then he jumped on his donkey, and headed home.

[theme music in]

What do you think Nasruddin is planning? We’ll find out… after a quick break.

[theme music out]


[theme music in]

NARRATOR: Welcome back to Circle Round. I’m Rebecca Sheir. Today our story is called “The Unwelcome Guest.”

[theme music out]

When we left off, Nasruddin had just left the governor’s big banquet. Nasruddin had come to the fancy dinner straight from a long, hot day at his vineyard… so his clothing was stained with mud, grapes and sweat. As a result, all the guests treated him with disdain! No one would venture near him, even though the governor was serving Nasruddin’s wine at the dinner!

So Nasruddin hatched a plan.

Back at his house, he pumped extra-bubbly soap into a steaming hot bath and climbed in. He scrubbed from his head to his toes. Then he dusted himself with powder, and buttoned up his fancy shirt and pants. Finally, he slipped on his long, red, silk coat - the one embroidered with clusters of bright purple grapes.

He took one last look at himself in the mirror...

NASRUDDIN: Look at you! You look marvelous!

NARRATOR: … and rushed back to the governor’s feast.

This time, when Nasruddin walked toward the doormen, instead of scrunching up their faces… they smiled.

DOORMAN 1: Good evening, sir!

DOORMAN 2: It’s an honor to have you!

DOORMAN 1: Come in, come in!

NARRATOR: When Nasruddin entered the banquet hall, the very same butler from before… the one who’d rudely dropped the napkins in his lap... came running over.

BUTLER: Good sir! Might I escort you to the governor’s table? Right this way!

NARRATOR: As Nasruddin followed the butler, people waved and called to him from all corners of the room.

WOMAN 1: Nasruddin! [NAHS-rue-DEEN] HI!

MAN 1: Hello!

WOMAN 2: How are you?

MAN 2: You look wonderful!

WOMAN 2: What a party, eh?

NARRATOR: When Nasruddin reached the governor’s table, the dignitary leapt up and enwrapped him in a hug.

GOVERNOR: Nasruddin!  My good man! Such an honor to have you here. Please, sit next to me. And eat all you want. My cooks have prepared enough tantalizing food to feed an entire country, let alone a town!

NARRATOR: Nasruddin did as he was told and sat next to the governor. Immediately, a waiter brought a glistening plate of roasted bell peppers.

Now, remember: Nasruddin hadn’t eaten all day; he’d been too busy working! But instead of gobbling up the peppers, one by one he picked them up… and stuffed them into the pockets of his coat!

NASRUDDIN: Mmm! Peppers! These look so good! Here you go, coat!

NARRATOR: The guests seated around Nasruddin stared in astonishment. When the next course arrived… a fragrant bowl of lentil soup… Nasruddin blew on the soup to cool it off… then… yes!... poured it into the pockets of his coat!

NASRUDDIN: I know how much you love soup, coat. Enjoy!

NARRATOR: By now everyone in the room was gaping at Nasruddin. With every new course the waiters brought… cucumber salad...

NASRUDDIN: Ooooh, coat, taste these!!

NARRATOR: ...zucchini fritters…

NASRUDDIN: Hey, coat! Have a nibble of these!

NARRATOR: ...lamb kebabs…

NASRUDDIN: Bon appetit!

NARRATOR: …Nasruddin didn’t eat a bite. Instead, he dumped everything into the pockets of his long, red, silk coat!

All this time, the governor had been frozen in his seat, his eyes wider than the bowl of soup Nasruddin had poured into his coat pockets! Finally, he spoke up.

GOVERNOR: Nasruddin? With all due respect… what are you doing?

NARRATOR: Nasruddin looked up innocently.

NASRUDDIN: Who, me? Well, I’m feeding my coat, of course!

GOVERNOR: I - I -I can see that. But, why feed a coat? I mean, all this delicious food we have here? What a waste!

NARRATOR: Nasruddin smiled.

NASRUDDIN: Oh. You see it as a “waste,” huh? (beat) You see, I don’t see it as a “waste” at all!

GOVERNOR: I don’t understand.

NARRATOR: Nasruddin stood up and looked around the crowded room. He cleared his throat...

NASRUDDIN: (throat clearing)

NARRATOR: … and the bustling room became silent.

NASRUDDIN: My dear friends and neighbors. When I first arrived at this feast tonight, I was dressed in my work clothes, all smudged and stained and smelly. And nobody — including you, Governor — nobody gave me the time of day! You all treated me like I was nothing!

NARRATOR: The guests in the banquet hall felt their faces burn red with shame. The governor hung his head. Then he placed his hand on Nasruddin’s shoulder.

GOVERNOR: What you say is true, Nasruddin. And on behalf of everyone, I am sorry. Truly sorry.  But, I’m still confused! Why feed your coat…?

NARRATOR: The wise man’s eyes twinkled.

NASRUDDIN: Well you see, after the way each and every one of you treated me, I went back home, and I changed into this coat. And I come back, and I’m greeted with smiles. And it was my coat that made all the difference! And I realized it wasn’t me you wanted at this party; it was my coat! So, what else could I do, but feed all of your delectable foods to the coat! See, I’m the unwelcome guest at this party. So my coat must be the welcome one.

NARRATOR: And with that, he walked out of the banquet hall… puddles and pieces of food trailing behind him.

From then on, everyone in town thought twice before treating people based on their appearance. They remembered it’s what’s inside that matters most. Just as the wise man had hoped, Nasruddin’s lesson proved to be some very precious… and very scrumptious… food for thought.

Headshot of Rebecca Sheir

Rebecca Sheir Host, Circle Round
Rebecca Sheir is the host "Circle Round," WBUR's kids storytelling podcast.



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