The woman who took this picture with her iPhone posted it on the internet and it went viral here and made James Pettit even more of a household name than he already was here.
The last time James Pettit was all over the front pages here was when he stated in an interview that "Moldova is not Romania", "Moldova has its own history", "unifying with Romania is not a practical choice and is not a choice that will make things better in Moldova", "it's important for Moldovans to see themselves as a separate nation", "Moldova, a multi-ethnic country", "Transnistria [Moldova's pro-Russian break-away region] must have a special status". That resulted in an uproar here and culminated in the president of Romania (EU and NATO country) publicly accusing Pettit of being "a trumpet of Moscow" who promotes "Stalin-like propaganda" that "negates historical facts". Well, we now know that "trumpet of Moscow" basically means "anyone you don't like" but it was still new then.
Two things one should know to understand better why this picture caused such a big fuss here:
1. Moldova has this (see here). And the glorification of success can take very ugly forms among its nouveaux riches, who are almost always either the members of the political elite themselves or their immediate family who set up businesses to funnel EU and IMF money into their pockets via government contracts. Every second niece of a third cousin of a vice department head at some third-rate ministry tints the windows of her car black asap and tries to demand that the hoi polloi are cleared out of the way before she takes to the road. Because it is cool. Also, Moldovan politicians are extremely corrupt and despised by the people. And most (the pro-Russia president is a bit of an exception for example) cannot appear in public without three rings of bodyguards around them and mixing with regular people in a queue is out of the question.
2. The US ambassador here is not just an ambassador of some other country in this country. People here say that he runs this place more than anyone else. For example, during the night when last year's public protests against the corrupt elite reached their peak here, the leaders of every significant political party were filmed going in and out of the US Embassy all night ("for consultation"). They were filmed almost queueing (we are talking acting prime-minister, MPs, etc). Nothing happens here without a "go ahead" from the US. During that night part of the corrupt ruling elite managed to make a deal with the US and the US did not support the protests in the end, which would have resulted in long prison sentences for the elite which robbed this country blind. In return the local corrupt elite promised to stir shit up with Russia whenever the US needs it (they can do it any time because of the Transnistria situation here), to scream "danger from Russia, we need NATO, please" anytime they are told to and to clean up the corruption somewhat (so the part of the elite that made the deal had to put in prison the rest of the elite basically and stop at least them from robbing this place, which has started happening).
A couple of (translated) reacts to the picture from Moldovans on social media:
"Good to see that James Pettit is not too busy or too important to spend ten minutes in a queue with us and not make a fuss about a separate window when our 23-year-old ambassadors who got their positions because of who their uncles were wave their diplomatic passports at bouncers at Chisinau's clubs to get themselves and their drunk hookers in."
"We will know we have achieved something when any of our politicians can do and actually does something similar. Or at least some of their relatives for a start."
"Isn't it funny that the man who actually runs this country queues at the airport with us, mere mortals while 14-year-old nieces of our irrelevant vice ministers (who officially make 12K dollars a year) fly their dogs to London on private planes for competitions?"
"James Pettit is a reminder that the US once was a country to look up to with a system where people elected the most capable and deserving people to rule the country in free elections with free press. Last election's (continuing) media circus and results put an end to that. James Pettit, US ambassador to Moldova. Fluent in English, Russian, Romanian, Spanish, German and Mandarin Chinese. Our ambassadors are 22 and can't speak at all. Oh well, they have the right uncles instead." One of the responses to this was "To be fair, who ever needed to hear a Moldovan ambassador speak?".
"Or man, I hope that queue goes fast and he manages to get through immigration before one of our ministers' kids arrives from London on a private plane and everyone is rushed out of the arrivals and made to wait until the teen goes through. But I think it will be OK, our ministers' and MPs' kids do not show up here very often anymore."