Desperate and Penniless!

I’m a week and a half into my Bangalore phase of my life and I’m stuck in a quandary which, at first glance, may seem pitiable, but on the second, hilarious.

I have three credit cards and four debit cards in my wallet and not a penny, dime, nickel or rupee in cash. I was banking on swiping these precious plastic cards to get my way around the city, at least until I get my first paycheck. The first thing I did when I came to Bangalore was go to a nice, expensive restaurant for lunch with my parents and my younger brother and order everything on the menu, including the kitchen sink. (Well, almost!)

When the obsequious maître d’ arrived with the check, I grandly whipped out my wallet and selected my Capital One card and gave it to him. Eyes sparkling and mouth watering at the thought of a fat tip, the man went to do the needful. He returned a few minutes later, and I could see the hatred in his eyes clearly.

“This card doesn’t work in India,” he said, handing me the card back, and added, “sir” with venom.

I gulped. I took out my whole arsenal of plastic cards and gave it to him. “Use whichever works,” I said.

Unfortunately, none did. And fortunately, Dad had his wallet on him. He ended up paying close to five thousand rupees and tipped the obnoxious maître d’ a paltry ten bucks. He literally kicked all of us out. As a final revenge, he made us wait for close to fifteen minutes in the sultry afternoon heat before the valet brought our car to us. I wished I could disappear.

Since then, I’ve been absolutely penniless and desperate for any sort of financial help. And by financial help, I mean the occasional ten-twenty bucks for coffee, smokes and fuel. Dad still pays for the fuel, but grudgingly. I can almost hear him laughing inside – US-returned, my ass!

Come Monday, I start working for this pretty cool PR firm called Hanmer and Partners. I can’t wait to start, only to get my restlessness out of my nerves and more importantly, to get my hands on a card that actually works in India!! I’ve met most of my old friends already, caught up on old times and when its time to pay the check, I always fall back on this line: “Hey, its your treat this time! I paid last time!” :D

Most of my friends are good-hearted people and they recognize a plea for help instantly and pay for me. Not for long, I keep telling myself….

Not for long. :D

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26 thoughts on “Desperate and Penniless!

  1. Holy Crap! This same thing happened to me in Australia–My credit card wouldn’t work. Fortunatly, my debit card worked and I had the foresight to pay all of my hotels and rental car in advance of the trip. I was able to take money out of the bank but, just enough to eat on. Resturaunts are really expensive there and I ended up buying food at the grocery stores and living off of that for two weeks.

    It turned out that for security reasons–I was supposed to notify my credit card company and let them know that I was traveling not only out of the state but out of the U.S.. They put a hold on my card waiting for me to contact them. It would have been nice to know that before I left!

    What a horrible feeling to be sitting in a nice resturaunt and have all of your plastic dissed like that. I know first hand.

  2. @ Penny Rielly
    Thanks for dropping by… And yeah, it’s such a terrible feeling… Sometimes I wish I had Harry Potter’s Invisibility Cloak…!! :D

  3. welcome to india my friend
    Cash is king – even the govt accounts for stuff in cash but expects its citizens to do it in chqs

    id recomend u open an nro a/c with sbi or hdfc bank pref and get money transferred via remittances
    else you can always carry hard dollars oops euros these days – lots of people including moneylenders and friends will happily exchange it for you

  4. Experience is the best guru yakke..u wont ever repeat such a mistake in any country ..i hope [:D]
    Anyways i wish if it doesn’t last for long …………….

  5. @Prax
    Thanks… Yeah, i think I should do something like that… once bitten, twice shy!! lol… :D
    @Rekha
    Thanks… if wishes were horses… :D

  6. Welcome to India friend -any thoughts of the “developed nation” we have become would have been wiped out by now.:D Meanwhile, most firms in India have the practice of giving an IoU (read it as I owe you) which can be later adjusted against your pay check. Check if your firm can give you some cash.

  7. @Raman
    I don’t know about the IOU scheme in my firm yet… Gotta inquire about it…
    And i guess it’ll take time for India to match up to the “developed” nations… we just gotta be patient… till it happens, I’m gonna travel with cash in my wallet… :D

  8. “order everything on the menu, including the kitchen sink.”……Buhaha !! :D

    *US-return* ? LOL !!

    Somethings ringing in my head – “tra-la-la”…

    Don’t wanna be an American idiot.
    Don’t want a nation under the new media.
    And can you hear the sound of hysteria?
    The subliminal mindf#$k America.
    :P

  9. Which card were u using? They should have worked! I’ve used all my cards in India without any prob. Btw, u tipped only Rs. 10? Shame on you! :| Seriously…spoiled the name of all NRIs. Heh.

  10. hsbc should have worked
    but there are a lot of card thefts in se asia so they must have auto blocked it – u could try a local helpline though it would take time to sort out the matter

  11. Capital One is the worst card you can ever get. Try to get Chase/American Express/ Bank of America.

    Re: HSBC, I don’t have an American HSBC card. Have an Indian one though.

    But mostly, credit cards are all international and should work anywhere. You might want to call up the customer care and find out more about it. I know that they charge 1% fee if you use it outside US.

  12. @prax
    yeah i’ll try that… thanks for the tip :)

    @ruhi
    I’ll call up their customer care and find out what the deal is… damn… i hope i get it resolved soon… and yeah, i’ve realized that capital one sucks!! lol… :D

  13. Since the serving staff somehow divined the card won’t work just by visual inspection, here is another possible explanation.

    Banks charge a % of the transaction as a fee. Many establishments simply do not want to pay that. Reasons could vary from technological fear to fears of fraud to thin margins so they cannot afford that small %.

    Alternatively they could have an unofficial policy of not taking credit cards below a certain sum. If a customer reports them to the bank with whom they have their merchant facility, it may not make much difference for Visa and Master cards since they are distributed through many banks; but in case of Amex, I can say confidently that with my complaints on 3 occasions, Amex investigated the said businesses and they were reprimanded because legally there is no basis for such limitations. They may even have their merchant facility revoked if complaints keep coming in.

    That you were using an American card in India is not really a problem. Capital One does not face any unique problems, by the way! It is just another Visa/ Master card issuer. The payment is processed locally and then the settlement is made between the bank which enables the business’s merchant account, the issuing bank and the processing bank (not always the same as the one providing the merchant account). However if all of your cards are not working, you really should call the issuing banks and have a chat. It may have more to do with security alerts your changed usage pattern may have sparked than with the cards per se. Such alerts are raised automatically so the issuing banks would not know till you let them know.

    By the way I travel without much cash in my pocket in India, and have done so for the last 12 odd years. I have not faced any problems, so I would be loathe to condemn India in one fell swoop and mind you, I go to visit family and relatives in relatively small B-towns too, not just in metros. The only problem I faced was at Bombay International Arrivals where if the only ATM (ICICI) is not working, one is sort of stuffed.

  14. Oh and on Ruhi’s advice to get Amex: Amex is accepted by even fewer establishments than any Visa/ Master card. The reason? It is a catch-22. They are not as widely issued and therefore have to charge a higher % of transaction costs. So more expensive to accept and hence even less wider acceptance than others. Many times, establishments get customers in with the Amex sign on the door and then ask for a Visa card. I stubbornly refuse to pay with Visa since they have no right to do that. I also leave a minuscule tip and leave never to return. There are plenty alternatives and I will not have a business dictate to a customer what card to use for paying them. Too bad if they do not get my future custom!

  15. @Shefaly
    Thanks so much for your advice… I think you’re right… I should’ve warned my bank that I’m traveling to India, so they could do the needful… I’m gonna call them up and find out…
    And yeah, its pretty frustrating when they ask for the visa card just to save a few rupees… bah…
    And I’m not really condemning India in any way.. I’m just cursing my own bad luck… :D
    Thanks, again!

  16. @ Yaake: You are welcome. :-) The reason why I wrote all this is that I believe if we understand the processes at the back-end, we will understand root causes better and can take appropriate steps to remedy a situation rather than feeling non-plussed or upset about it. So my comments are rather long-winded (merely long to some!) but usually well-meant.

    Good luck sorting the situation, and with your new job.

  17. @Shefaly,
    Your comments are definitely taken in the best of spirits… Thanks for your wishes… I certainly hope I can sort out the situation and settle in to the new job soon… :)

  18. leave aside all the agony :P i wonder what you would have done if it was a dinner date with a pretty girl :P omg,thinking about it,laughin out loud !

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