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  • I have to write this story. To get it out of my system, so to speak. When I read Ray’s story today, ’Meeting My Mother-In-Law’ I remembered and I would so much want to get over it finally. But I am afraid I can’t. My most embarrassing moment! Epicly embarrassing – as my 16-year old daughter would so eloquently put it.

    It happened quite a long time ago in 1992.

    Growing up under the Soviet system was strange and being a child I didn’t really think about it. But when I was 11 I learnt that I had relatives in the US. They had gotten away before the borders closed as did my grandfather and some other loved ones. In my family we never talked about them, not really. My father was afraid that it might bring complications to us, the children, because after my grandfather fled, my grandmother was sent to prison, my aunt thrown out of the university and my father could continue his studies only because of a very bold professor at his university. Who knows what the system would do to us!

    After I heard about my relatives I had a dream – to get to visit the US. It was a childish dream those days and I knew it would never come true. But never say never! So true!
    In 1992, a week after Estonia got its own money and it was clear the freedom had finally come, I got to go! I got an invitation from my relatives and then I had to apply for a visa. Applying happened several months before the trip and I had to go to St Petersburg and get the visa. No embassies in Estonia yet. To apply for a visa was a joke in itself. You had to fill a book, literally, where various questions were asked about you, your parents, their parents, etc., etc. All in Russian. My father filled my application because I was not that good in Russian.

    And then we went – first to Moscow, from there to Shannon, Ireland, then to Canada and finally landed at Kennedy International. I was in heaven. I could speak English and everybody understood me!

    The trip was great, I could see New York, visit the WTC, and our blue-black and white flag there with all the other flags. Oh, I felt proud! We travelled to Vermont and all over the east coast. I even visited the Atlantic City casinos. That was exotic. And I could speak English all the time! What a treat!

    But my embarrassment of a lifetime happened in Connecticut, in a supermarket. Back home we didn’t have supermarkets back then. Well, only a few weeks before I came to the States, we didn’t have anything in the shops. Literally – they were empty. We got ration coupons for sugar, flour, even vodka. Some people said they never had had so much alcohol at home those days. You had to buy it because the coupons were issued monthly or something like that. I really don’t remember that well. My husband dealt with that, I never got the system worked out for me and didn’t really want to learn either. It all seemed so pointless and ludicrous.

    Anyway, we went to the supermarket, my relatives and I and some of their friends. Bought stuff for the evening meal, quite a lot – also something I had never seen before. Then at the cash register, I saw from the corner of my eye that an older guy was taking our groceries and without thinking I cried out:

    ’Wait, what are you doing? This is our stuff!’

    Even now it pains me to write about it because as soon as those words had come out my mouth I realised my mistake. For a second I had slipped back into my world, the world I had come from! I was not that ignorant for heaven sake! I knew.... and still I managed to make this idiotic mistake.

    I tell you, I have never been so embarrassed in my life! That man’s face as he looked at me! I wanted to die then and there, wanted the floor to swallow me or something. I still get the feeling when I am writing this here. I apologised and apologised and finally the guy seemed to understand that I hadn’t meant what I said. He smiled and said it was OK, but for me it wasn’t and it never will be. I got such a lesson then and there, which was more valuable than most of the things I had learnt during my life.

    I am still feeling the embarrassment sitting here, writing this. Amazing thing is it hasn’t faded over these 20 years, not really. And I wish it had.

    (Picture made by my daughter in Photoshop - flag of Soviet Estonia changing into our real flag)
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