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Fabergé egg -- or grenade? Minnesota woman's Russian souvenir trips up German airport security

Faberge egg
Courtesy of Mary McNab
Mary McNab's Fabergé egg

Sometimes, a souvenir jeweled egg doesn't look like a harmless keepsake, especially in an airport X-ray machine, where apparently it can be mistaken for a grenade.

That's what happened Saturday to Mary McNab, a nurse at Rochester's Mayo Clinic, who was bringing home two treasures from Russia last week.

The first — and, by far, more precious — was Hannah, 3½, her newly adopted daughter from Krasnoyarsk.

The second: a $70 souvenir Fabergé egg, purchased from a Kremlin gift shop the day before they started home. Hannah traveled well on the long journey; it was the egg, stored in a carry-on bag, that caused some airport angst.

The two were returning to Minnesota from the three-week adoption trek and flew from Moscow to Frankfurt, where they had a two-hour wait for a connecting Lufthansa flight to Chicago.

"We had to switch terminals and go through security to get to the next flight," McNab said. "My rolling carry-on bag went through the X-ray scanner, and they kept it inside the machine for quite a while, then called other people over to look at it."

She and Hannah were told to wait in a small room near the check-point.

"They questioned me about the bag, and I tried to remember all my contents. When they said there was something suspicious, something that looked to them like a grenade, I remembered that I'd purchased the Fabergé egg. I'd heard from lots of people that it was a famous souvenir that many travelers bought in Russia, so I thought it would be nice to have one."

The security officials seemed to believe her but still had to check it out. Standard procedure, they said.

Her souvenir is about the size of a real Fabergé egg, painted light blue with gold and faux-jewel trim. There's a pearl-like ornament on the top. And it has a metal stand, with legs.

The security guards showed McNab the X-ray machine picture, and she agreed that it did look a bit like a grenade, with one of the curved legs showing up like a pin on the top of a grenade.

From the small waiting room, she and Hannah watched as officials cleared the area, roped it off and routed the other waiting passengers to another security line.

After that, "they had a [bomb-sniffing] dog come and a truck drove up with several police/security personnel," she said. "They had everything secured for a possible bomb before opening my bag to check it out."

"I understood what they were doing, especially after they showed me what it looked like," McNab said.

Still, she was getting nervous with time running out to catch her connecting flight. The idea of being stuck there was the upsetting part, she said.

"But they were very nice to me, reassuring me that they were just checking out the bag and not implying anything about me," she said. "They asked for my connecting flight information,and I got the impression that they might have held the flight for me, if need be. But it didn't come down to that."

She made the flight — arriving at the gate, with her new daughter, just as it was boarding — and the rest of the trip went smoothly.

Hannah was just fine during the delay. "It was just another part of a long trip for her," she said.

The two, now safely home, are adjusting to their new family situation and speaking to each other, using snippets of English that Hannah has learned and some Russian phrases Mary knows.

Her advice to travelers with Fabergé eggs: "Put them in your checked luggage."

And she wants people to know that these things can happen in today's security-conscious world: "They were only doing things to keep America safe. And it did kind of look like a grenade," she said. "But everything turned out OK.

"And it did give me an interesting story to tell."

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Comments (5)

It does look like the Holy Hand Grenade of Antioch.

I have no idea how fragile these souvenir eggs are, but I might be leary of putting one in checked luggage. Other options might be to declare it and hand it to the security people so they can inspect it in the open, or simply have it shipped to yourself at home.

This security episode ended well for all concerned. Now, if only the TSA folks at MSP could take note of the Germans handled the PR of this situation.

Maybe frail little old ladies in wheel chairs, catching flights at MSP, with pacemakers etc. can be searched/inspected without the rude embarrassment of being led off to a separate holding area and probably missing her flight!

Being treated with respect and dignity goes along way of making the security process more user friendly. The TSA folks at MSP should take note of this story and take some extracurricular sensitivity and PR training. It should make their attitudes more professional and more to those they serve.

She should have carried the damn egg in her panties.

She should have carried the damn egg in her panties.