"Anyone who'll go 40 feet in the air to trim a tree will eat this," said Barbara Bush, nibbling New Zealand cheddar cheese. Tuesday she was high up in a cherry picker lending a hand with the National Christmas Tree. But with feet firmly on the ground Mrs. Bush "cut the ribbon" yesterday to open the YWCA's 32nd International Fair at the Washington Hilton.

Mrs. Bush was among more than 5,000 who showed up to sample exotic food, buy gifts and view traditional dress from 30 participating embassies. Proceeds from the one-day bazaar -- expected to top last year's $25,000 -- benefit both local "Y" activities and international projects in more than 80 countries through the World YWCA Cooperation for Development program.

Mrs. Bush's quick tour of the booths included a bit of shopping. "I've got four grandchildren to buy stocking stuffers for." Brightly colored Polish duck ornaments made from wood shavings -- called kaezuskis -- caught her eye and met her one requirement. "I have to be impartial so the gifts must be identical." She passed up the Cyprus wine ("It's a little early for that"), was tempted by Icelandic ponnukokur (pancakes filled with whip cream and jelly) and turned down Malaysian Fried Bee Hoon with a quick "I better not."

She greeted friend and tennis adversary Antoinette de Laboulaye, wife of the French ambassador, with a hug and a two-cheek kiss, and accepted a bright red wool beret to give to the vice president. "He can go running in it," she teased. The French booth, with everything from perfume to pa te', sells only products donated to it and is consistently one of the biggest moneymakers at the bazaar.

One group that actively experimented with exotic food was that of the 270 hearing-impaired students from the Model Secondary School for the Deaf. Spanish teacher Nancy Strizver organized the field trip. "It's the best way for them to get to know other cultures, other food. Instead of going to a foreign country we can come here."