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#13 Don’t lose your credit card in Brazil

We've had a pretty good run so far here in Brazil, but with lucky blog post #13, our luck is running out.

As the title implies, we had a little mishap with our credit card that actually turned into a much bigger deal than we could have imagined. Shaunna came home one day to discover that her credit card wasn’t in her wallet. We looked everywhere in the house, the car, retraced steps, etc. No card. So, like the responsible people we are, we reported it missing, but of course, a day later, it turned up in one of the kids’ gym bags, where it always was. Who remembers how it got there, but the point is that it was never missing. The bank, however, didn’t see it that way. Apparently, there are some regulations that prevent the bank from restoring a missing card. Once a card is reported missing— even if it was never actually missing and was sitting in your kid’s gym bag the whole time— you can’t use it again. You need a new one. Well, sending a new card to our home in the U.S. obviously doesn’t solve our problem, and as for sending a new one to us in Brazil, the bank won’t send a new card to a foreign country where they can’t “verify the address.” I’m not quite sure what that means, but that’s how it is.

So all this put us in a real pickle. Here was the “solution”: we had to link our bank account to an external account we have with another bank, so we could transfer money to the other bank and use the card attached to that account. This is not easy, and it takes a week, because our bank has a daily limit on the amount you can transfer. Remember the rental car fiasco? Well it has cosmically intersected with our credit card problem. So paying for something like a car rental, which exceeds the daily bank-to-bank transfer limit, is not possible with a “next day” transfer. You have to use the “standard transfer,” which has a higher financial limit but a longer wait time. So now we’re waiting… with fingers crossed.

I imagine one day this will be one of those stories I look back on and laugh about, but today is not that day. Living in a foreign country is great… until it’s not. The consequences of even small errors can be amplified because of the complications of being abroad. We planned for a variety of contingencies, but we didn’t plan for this. For as much as Brazilians tell me Brazil is “the land of bureaucracy,” this incident has everything to do with the U.S. Our account is with a regional credit union. Credit unions and their attractive rates are great for banking locally, but don’t test their limits in international travel. I recounted this tale to someone here, and they said, “Well, I’m sure there’s a way they can fix it. You can’t be the first people this has happened to.” I’m beginning to think we are, because the bank seemed completely unprepared for this scenario. I imagine they don’t have many clients traveling from Central Illinois to South America. We are fine and can pay for expenses with my card, and despite the occasional setback, we still love being here.

In other news... we didn't travel this week, so staying in Uberlândia gave us the opportunity to experience local culture. My student, Marcos, who accompanied me to São Paulo a couple of weeks ago, was my guide again, except this time on a tour of the music stores of Uberlândia. It was great to meet the clerks at the various shops and sample wares.

Hitting the music shops in Uberlândia with my trusty guide, Marcos

We arrived at the largest shop, Beaver Music, and in addition to the English name, it might as well have been an American shop, because we walked in to hear a customer trying out an acoustic guitar and singing (in English) Pink Floyd’s “Wish You Were Here.” At least it wasn’t Stairway To Heaven, but I had to get this momentous occasion on video. Some things just don’t change from country to country.

I wish you were here to hear this guy.

Marcos also took me to one of the best pamonha shops in the city. Pamonha is a traditional Brazilian dish similar to a tamale, a corn husk with various types of filling. There is a sweet and a salty variety. Marcos said the sweet was more traditional, so of course I got that. The filling was a mix of ground corn, cheese, sugar, and oil. I heard a lot about pamonha, but finally trying one exceeded my expectations. Wow. This was seriously delicious. I feel like I say this a lot about Brazilian food in these posts, but it’s true. The food here is just really flavorful. I had to bring some pamonha home for the family.

One of the best pamonha shops in Uberlândia

The young woman behind the counter told us she arrives early every morning and makes these little pieces of heaven herself. Amen.

Product enlarged to show delicious texture

Despite the huge American influence here in Brazil, there are very few Americans, and in a place like Uberlandia, which is far from tourist cities like São Paulo and Rio, there are even fewer Americans. But this week right here on UFU’s campus I ran into two, Dylan and Fred. Dylan is from Kentucky and Fred is from New Jersey. They are both Fulbrighters like me, but they are English Teaching Assistants (ETAs). As the name implies, ETAs assist English professors in teaching English. They stay in country for a full academic year— we all arrived on the same day in Uberlandia, but Dylan and Fred will stay here until December. So how did I run into them? They passed me as I grabbed a bite to eat between classes at the LOL Cafe, and I thought to myself, “Man, these guys look American.” We do tend to stand out here. The three of us had a fun conversation— in English, though it could have been in Portuguese— and compared notes on our experiences here in Brazil.

Nearly all the American population of Uberlândia on a single sidewalk square. Fulbrighters unite!

Our family has a guest membership at Club Cajubá, one of Uberlândia’s country clubs. As I mentioned in a previous post, country clubs are all the rage here in Brazil, and Brazilians spend considerable time at them. While I'm at work, Shaunna and the kids go to the club to exercise and hang out and, recently, play beach volleyball with some friends from church (see photo). Because of the nice weather, beach sports are big in Brazil— beach volleyball, beach tennis, beach soccer. There are little schools and clubs scattered throughout the city where you can take lessons and compete in beach sports. There’s a beach tennis school a block from our house, shoehorned into a corner in the middle of a residential neighborhood. This is the Brazilian way— make space where you can find it. Incidentally, this lack of uniformity gives neighborhoods an ad hoc appearance. No two streets look the same. This can sometimes cause infrastructure issues, but it makes for interesting visuals, and it’s one of the things I love about Brazil. At any rate, Club Cajubá sits on a hill overlooking the city and offers some stunning views. We caught one at sunset. I’ll miss these magnificent Brazilian sunsets.

The kids and our friends from church, Jeane and daughter Yasmin, getting on their beach volleyball

The view from Club Cajubá at sunset. Ah, Brazil.

We also finally made it to the Municipal Market. This is a really cool place. If you’re looking for something Brazilian or Mineiro or Uberlandese, the Municipal Market has it. We saw all kinds of artesanal items from the local "serrado" region and beyond, and there was plenty of delicious food typical of Minas Gerais. If you get a souvenir from us, you can probably thank the Municipal Market for it.

Just one of many colorful corners in Uberlândia's Municipal Market

The week closed out with something I had wanted to do for a long time. My UFU colleague Daniel Lovisi is an expert in Brazilian guitar styles. We had a date scheduled months ago to get together, but poor Daniel got sick, so we had to postpone. We finally did it this week. Man, did I learn a lot. Previously, I had studied from a Brazilian guitar book and listened to many Brazilian recordings over the years, but without a good teacher to help you understand what you’re hearing and how to apply it, it can be tricky. Daniel helped clear up many cobwebs and gave me some really practical advice on improving my Brazilian guitar playing. We also spent a good chunk of time nerding out on jazz guitar stuff, which is more my area, but it’s something Daniel has been studying. A giant check in the cultural exchange box. Go Fulbright!

Cultural exchange in action with my colleague Daniel Lovisi

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