Page:Frederic Shoberl - Persia.djvu/162

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the same traveller, that a mound of earth had been raised in the middle of a tent, as a substitute for a table, but so very high, says he, that we could but just see the noses of those who sat opposite to us. This table, which was of immense breadth, was covered with different sorts of dishes and fruit. In the middle a narrow space had been left open, and I could not imagine for what purpose, until, when we were seated, I saw the servants jump upon the table, and stand there, handing round such dishes as might be agreeable to us. I would have given much to be allowed to laugh heartily; but we were obliged to repress our risibility. One of the men, however, having stepped into a dish of sour milk, and his neighbour having, in the attempt to relieve him, nearly fallen over another dish, it was no longer possible to refrain from laughing outright; and luckily the conversation of the ambassador and the minister, who did not observe the accident, having turned upon a circumstance of a ridiculous nature, our laughter could not excite particular observation. The clumsy servant modestly withdrew, leaving the marks of his footsteps on the table. Besides this awkward mode of waiting, which must have been unpleasant to the servants themselves, others had to stand behind us and keep off the flies with large straw fans.

The minister then sent to several gentlemen bonnes bouches from his own plate, which is considered the highest honour that a person of distinction can show to a foreign guest. With the Persians that degree of ceremony is dispensed with: he throws the food at once into their mouths, and they evince much dexterity in catching it. Should a great man happen to take a liking to his neighbour, he nicely kneads a portion of greasy rice with three fingers into a lump, and with a condescending smile conveys it into the mouth open to receive the honour.

The silence which prevails during a genuine Persian repast, is a circumstance that does not fail to strike a European. Here is no clatter of plates, knives and forks; no noise caused by servants, or the drinking of healths; no interruption is given to the main business, the satisfaction of the cravings of appetite, by the laughter excited by some humorous sally. Many entertainments are succeeded by the exhibitions of hired dancers and music.

Unlike the Europeans, the Persian does not keep his doors shut at meal times. He would think himself deficient in his duty to God, did he not spread the table of his bounty for all; every one may share what he has, without his ever being displeased on account of the number of his guests. As he is temperate, his provision plentiful, and he never reserves any thing for another day, there is always sufficient to satisfy every appetite. This virtue is common to all the nations of the East.