Thursday, November 01, 2007

Sunday Scribblings: Money

Today I had a money freakout.

Sometimes, God speaks to me in a teeny tiny voice that I ignore. Like on Wednesday, when I didn't want to go to the bank because:

1. It was hot.
2. The air-conditioned metro stop was right around the corner.
3. I didn't want to be hauling around thousands of reis. I needed to get out the child sponsorship money because the beginning of the month was coming up, and we always try to give them the money ASAP because most Brazilian bills are due right around the 7th or so. But because I'm a little afraid of getting robbed, being white and obviously not Brazilian, I don't like to carry around loads of cash.

So I ignored the little voice and didn't go.

Today, I tried to access my internet banking. And it wouldn't let me. And then the site went off air. When I called international collect to see what was wrong, the man on the other end of the line got very confused. He didn't seem to understand English very well and became flustered when the operator asked him if he'd accept a collect call from a client in Brazil.

"Brazil? She needs to call our number in Brazil...I do not know this...I will have to ask a manager...

Even the operator was getting a little irritated with him. Maybe it was his first day and no one had told him that when customers overseas call their banks collect, there's usually a really good reason and they shouldn't fumble around for six minutes trying to decide if it's okay to accept the call.

So then he tells me that my card expired. Oops. And that I can't access my internet banking anymore until my new card is activated. And how to get a new card? Oh, they can mail me one here. But I need to go to a Citibank branch in Rio and ask them if they will accept the card for me. And if I get the name and address and all direitinho, THEN and only THEN will they send me a new card.

(I can only imagine what would happen if my card had been stolen. Getting through to the Citibank system was a miracle in and of itself...)

So, doubtful but tired of this dude, I head off to Tijuca, where there is a Citibank branch and also the only ATM in the city that has a good track record of working with my other debit card. ATM not working. Great. I have exactly enough money lying around in cash to pay my rent and buy bus passes for maybe, maybe the next week. But the phone, the light, the food bills? Not so much. Don't even get me started on the sponsorship funds, or after-school classes we're sponsoring...arrrrghhh!

At the Citibank branch, the young man with a retainer smiles at me and I use my best Portuguese to explain the situation. He heads off to speak with a manager and I enjoy the respite from the miserable summer heat. Suited retainer boy returns with a glass of water and a slightly remorseful "No, we can't actually do that. Maybe they do that in your country, but here...we just can't be responsible...Where are you from? Your Portuguese is very good. Do you live here? Where do you live? Oh, that's near me...you should really stop by here again."

Sweet. You can't help me, I am cashless in a foreign country, but you still offer a gentle cantada. If I could live off of compliments and flirting, perhaps I'd take you up on the offer. But I don't plan on making social visits to Citibank offices. Thanks, though!

So, having wasted R$3.50 on bus fares and sat on a miserable plastic seat in a cramped combi to save fifty whole centavos on the way there, I was ready to go home. Where I immediately called my bank some fifteen times until I was able to speak to a real person, whose name was that of a major makeup and beauty brand. We'll call her Maybelline, for fun.

Maybelline was wonderful. She got my internet banking working again, promised to send another debit card to my home address where it will be brought down to Brazil in the competent hands of some traveling friends here in a few weeks. So I managed to transfer funds and if God plays with the circuits in some ATMs down here, with luck I'll be able to withdraw money on Monday. If not, I'll be eating rice and canned corn and onions for a few days...

Most things aren't, but every now and again, things become more complicated when living in a foreign country. It's bad enough that the exchange rate has fallen from 2.18 to 1.76 in a matter of months. I never was good with numbers, and now I'm having to reconstruct budgets with falling exchange rates and calculate 2008 projections...

Managing money is not one of my giftings. As evidenced by the fact that simple things like expiration dates escape my notice. Hm. Live and learn, huh?

8 comments:

Ther said...

Wow. What a story. It must be really frustrating. But at least it's now working. Rice, canned corns and onions? Oh my. Just thinking about it gives me indigestion. =)

tumblewords said...

Fascinating story! If it's any comfort, things like that happen everywhere! But hardly anyone tells them with your skill!

paisley said...

scary isn't it when you have no more control over your money than you do of someone else's??? i do so hate the banking system.. it is large and ominous and a looming monster to me when it doesn't "act" the way it is supposed to....

Patois said...

What you had to go to is amazing. Very well written tale. I'm sorry that it's true. But at least a happy ending.

--jenna said...

ther: i admit, there are a few more things in the cupboards...but rice corn and onions, with a little taco seasoning and some creme de leite is the start of a mexican-y rice casserole...which isn't so bad for a meal!

tumblewords and patois: thanks for the compliments and sympathy!

paisley: it IS scary. i can check my u.s. based account balance at a foreign ATM... somehow, that creeps me out.

Just Jen said...

I don't know how you do it. The good Lord is definitely taking care of you! He gave you persistence, that's for sure...lol

Lisa said...

I had a similar experience years ago when I first moved to Germany before I had my local bank accounts set up. It was pretty frustrating and scary, but you'll possibly look back on it one day a be able to laugh a little.

UL said...

I could relate to this so much, I was once stuck in a shut down airport in a foreign land, without a way to exchange traveller's checks..and I was worried sick..thanks for sharing, well written.