Raisa Gorbachev, offering her own version of glasnost to crowds of admiring New Yorkers, stopped to bask in their applause and returned the favor with warm words for Americans and their "beautiful" city.

Until a tragedy back home shortened her visit, the fashionably dressed Soviet first lady appeared to enjoy playing at diplomacy and tourism in a brisk sweep through Gotham on Wednesday.Following a luncheon with Nancy Reagan and Barbara Bush, the wife of Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev visited the headquarters of the Estee Lauder cosmetics firm, where she paused outside her limousine to smile and acknowledge the waving crowd.

"What message I would like to say to the Americans is that I'm sincerely happy to have this opportunity to see this beautiful city," Mrs. Gorbachev said through an interpreter. "But even more than this, I am happy to have an opportunity to meet the Americans."

Onlookers continued to call her name when she went inside for a private tour.

"She loved them (the spectators), the cheers, the applause," said Leonard Lauder, president and chief executive officer of Estee Lauder. "She's never seen anything like it. She's never seen a city like this anywhere, where she's been so well-received."

That opportunity was cut short when her husband decided he had to leave New York a day early because of a devastating earthquake in three Soviet republics.

"I've been wanting to see Raisa Gorbachev forever, it seems," said onlooker Phyllis Parker, 47, of Rochester. "When I was a very young girl in Blackfoot, Idaho, everybody disliked Russia for no reason, and I got to know them and love them (through her own studies).

"My father was an atomic scientist. I wanted peace. This is a very emotional time for me," she added.

Inside, Mrs. Gorbachev, who "has gorgeous skin," was shown baskets of fragrances and asked to be sprayed with a perfume called "Beautiful," said Evelyn Lauder, corporate vice president.

"The point really was that it's a family business, which is so different from the USSR," said Mrs. Lauder, who is the daughter-in-law of founder Estee Lauder.

Mrs. Gorbachev's security team emerged bearing armloads of gifts wrapped in gold foil with red ribbons, including cosmetics and fragrances, two "I Love New York" T-shirts, a crystal apple and toys for the Gorbachev grandchildren.

In the evening, she attended a U.N. reception after a late afternoon motorcade tour of the city with her husband, who addressed the United Nations and met with President Reagan and President-elect Bush for lunch.