Persian Letters/Letter 30
Rica to the Same, at Smyrna
The curiosity of the people of Paris exceeds all bounds. When I arrived, they stared at me as if a I had dropped form the sky: old and young, men, women, and children, were all agog to see me. If I went abroad, everybody flew to the window. If I visited the Tuileries, I was immediately surrounded by a circle of gazers, the women forming a rainbow woven of a thousand colours. When I went sight-seeing, a hundred lorgnettes were speedily leveled at me: in fact, never was a man so stared at as I have been. I smiled frequently when I heard people who had never traveled beyond their own door, saying to each other, “He certainly looks very like a Persian.” One thing struck me: I found my portraits everywhere-in all the shops, on every mantelpiece-so fearful were they lest they should not see enough of me.
So much distinction could not fail to be burdensome. I do not consider myself such a rare and wonderful specimen of humanity; and although I have a very good opinion of myself, I would never have dreamt that I could have disturbed the peace of a great city, where I was quite unknown. I therefore resolved to change my Persian dress for a European one, in order to see if my countenance would still strike people as wonderful. This experiment made me acquainted with my true value. Divested of everything foreign in my garb, I found myself estimated at my proper rate. I had reason to complain of my tailor, who had made me lose so suddenly the attention and good opinion of the public; for I sank immediately into the merest nonentity. Sometimes I would be as much as an hour in a given company, without attracting the least notice, or having an opportunity given me to speak; but, if any one chanced to inform the company that I was a Persian I soon overheard a murmur all round me, “Oh! ah! A Persian, is he? Most amazing! However can anybody be a Persian?”
Paris, the 6th of the moon of Chalval, 1712.