PASSING THROUGH CUSTOMS

When you are travelling abroad you don’t have to worry about customs, of course.
But on the way back…
Oh my God, the price you have to pay because of customs!
About three weeks before leaving Germany the talk begins:
“Everything’s fine, but once we reach Shepetivka…”

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“Been to Tiergarten?”
“Yeah.”
“And how d’you like it? Fabulous park, isn’t it?”
“Marvellous place. But I don’t know whether customs frisk your pockets.”

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“Come from Potsdam?”
“Yes!”
“Wilhelm wasn’t mad when he chose to live there. What a park! And the rooms! The fountains! The cleanliness! The order everywhere!”
“Yeah! Makes you wonder. But do customs really let through only one pair of shoes?”

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“Been to the museum?”
“Just got back.”
“Impressive?”
“Superb! Do they let men bring back talcum powder?”

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“Oh, what a hassle this customs business is!”
They let you bring back so frightfully few things from abroad. Such a harsh limit on everything, makes you want to cry.
Just think – only three suits allowed.
Only two coats.
Just six pairs of underwear.
Only one gold cross and a small gold icon.
Only one string of pearls and one watch.
What a government.
In the instruction form it says you can bring in articles required for personal use over a period of two to three months.
Doesn’t the Soviet government know you can’t manage with only one watch?
You need at the very least three!
How can any scientific, literary, cultural or industrial worker spend a month abroad with only three suits?
And how can one string of pearls be enough?
Will a worker really be able to visit all those German factories, if he’s only allowed to sniff on five hundred grams (half a litre) of “Coty” perfume, which needs to be opened? Mind you, the weight includes the glass bottle.
You just can’t make sense of Soviet policy in this instance.
How can it be so?
I set out on the long journey from Berlin to Kharkiv and I can’t take a teddy-bear with me?
But it’s one of the most essential things.
Am I supposed to travel without being able to cuddle up to my teddy? What sort of a trip is that?
But customs in Shepetivka won’t let teddy-bears through.
They declare it’s ‘not allowed’…

Pockets are a real tragedy.
For some reason the Germans have very small pockets in their suits.
Shove a teddy-bear in feet first – and his head pokes out.
Shove him in head first – and his feet stick out.
Sit down, make a sudden move, and the devil lets out a howl.
And everyone about you roars with laughter.
What’s so funny?
A person travelling abroad on assignment is never so worried and nervous, as when he is returning home.
I mean, really, why worry when you arrive in Germany or France?
What can make you anxious there? A new foreign city, new people, different lifestyle, different culture?
You grow used to all this very quickly…
The trepidation begins just before the departure ‘nach Hause’.
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
“Excuse me, but aren’t you wearing a pair of women’s drawers?”
“Can you really tell? I’ve removed the elastic. Men wear short ones like this in summer these days.”
“But they don’t have large chrysanthemums sewn onto the front. And another thing, as far as I can recall, men’s drawers have a fly, don’t they?”
“Why, will customs be looking for flies as well? Why do you keep bringing up Shepetivka customs? I don’t want to wear the same clothes as the Shepetivka officials. There are no rules that stipulate I must wear drawers without chrysanthemums!”

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The pain and suffering science and scholarship cause our people. The worries a trip abroad creates for our scientists, young and old alike.

Shepetivka. It’s summer. A real heat wave.
Young red-faced citizens alight from the train carriages dressed in sealskin mantles and fur hats, with plush plaid about their necks or in their hands, wearing warm gloves and two or three pairs of woollen underwear…
“Why are you so wrapped up there? Off to the North Pole?”
“I’m scared I might catch cold. The carriages are drafty, you know… My mother had severe rheumatism, she suffered something terrible!”
Shepetivka customs officials are a jovial lot.

When a ‘polar explorer’ fronts before customs, every muscle in the official’s face spells mirth.
I saw the consequences of their cheerful nature after they interviewed one such ‘sealskin madam’.
On the table lay a string of pearls at least seven metres long, a flagon with no less than a gallon of perfume, heaps of all kinds of lace and stacks of other things.
I would have felt uncomfortable asking her where she had managed to hide it all on her person.
In under half an hour the ‘sealskin madam’ had lost an enormous amount of weight and had a much paler complexion.
Customs officials with their smiling faces are the biggest tormentors out…
They’re nasty monsters…
They’re not moved by tears, or flirting, or serious arguments to the effect that a lady’s silk outfit is a must for a young engineer working in the coal mines of Donbas.
Their most cherished phrase is: “Not allowed.”
A deadly phrase.
And all because of that damned small word ‘not’.

Well, all the same, how do you get through customs?
I won’t tell you! It’s a very big secret.
I passed with flying colours.
I even managed to dupe the officials and sneaked in a life-sized rubber camel.
How?
I stuffed it into the sole of my shoe.
They never tore the soles off my shoes – so I smuggled it in.
Now I don’t know what to do with the damned thing – it won’t fit in my apartment, the kids are afraid of it, and my wife won’t stop cursing me:
“Why couldn’t you have stuffed a sealskin mantle into your shoe?”
I agree, I made a mistake there. These things happen.

09.09.1928