To Bee or Not to Bee
Two days after I got back from Rio de Janeiro, the credit card company called to find out if I was still down there. Somebody in Rio had bought a $200 pair of shoes on my card that very morning.
The reason they got suspicious was that I’d called before I left and said, “Look, I understand that credit card fraud is rampant in Rio.”
The company took my concerns seriously and asked me what days I’d be down there. They said they’d keep an eye on my account.
I lived in Rio when I was a kid, and I was returning after 42 years for a school reunion. A former classmate who is an occasional Rio visitor tipped me off to calling the credit card company.
Once I got down to Brazil, I discovered that cash could also be a problem. First of all, you can get held up, even with a cop on every corner. This happens all the time. My hotel room came with a safe, so I locked up everything of value ” including my credit card ” before I went out, but I carried the equivalent of about $20 in Brazilian reais in my pocket. Twenty dollars goes a long way in Rio. And I figured if I got robbed, it wouldn’t be the end of the world.
It grated that whenever I converted dollars into reais, I got burned to the tune of 10 or 20 percent. It didn’t matter where I exchanged money. The moneychanger took a hefty cut. I’m a cheapskate at heart, and this hurt.
But I learned that if I used my credit card, I could get the international exchange rate, so in effect, I got a 10 to 20 percent bonus for using my card. I discovered that you could also get the international rate with an ATM card, but I’ve never had one of those.
By the time I figured all this out, it was near the end of my week-long stay. I still had reais to spend, so I ended up using my credit card only a few times. I used it to pay my hotel bill. I bought a few meals and a taxi ride. That was about it. I was careful with receipts. Well, somewhat careful.
When I arrived in Rio in the middle of the night, the first thing I did after clearing customs was hire a cab. At the airport taxi stand I told the woman I wanted to go to the Ipanema Inn, and she quoted me a fare.
Fine. I didn’t have any reais, so I paid with my credit card. The woman said to just go outside and give the receipt to a driver.
Except she actually gave me two receipts. One stated that I had paid my fare. The other was my credit card receipt. It had my number on it. I was tired. I was struggling with a language that, after 42 years, I’d mostly forgotten. I gave both receipts to the cabbie and got in.
The driver and I talked. He warned me about crime in this most enchanting of cities. He told me to be careful.
Halfway across town his message about being careful hit home. I realized that I no longer had my credit card receipt. I knew right away I’d given it to the driver. I even remembered where he put it.
“Your receipt?” he said. “Here.” He handed me the taxi receipt.
I said, “No, I need the credit card receipt.”
The driver said, “You never gave it to me.”
I said, “Yes, I did.”
“I don’t have it,” he said.
As he shifted gears, I tapped the back of his right hand. He shot me a glance, and I almost laughed. “It’s in your hand,” I said.
Peach Valley beekeeper and old Brazil hand Ed Colby recently returned from vacation in Peoria. Ed’s e-mail: email@example.com.
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