Longest Distance Call
I had to cancel an airline booking I had made through Travelocity (one of those rare birds these days: a fully-refundable fare). No way to do it online. I'd have to make a call. I got their US toll-number, and called. The recording suggested I should check online since "most reservations" could be canceled online. I tried again. Nope. So I call, listen to music and to some inane recordings about travel guidelines. "Thank you for calling Travelocity, this is Patrick, how can I help you?" I had to wait on hold several times (on my dime, on an international call), but he took care of it.
His accent was a dead give away. "So, tell me 'Patrick.' Are you in India?" Slight pause, "Yes, sir." In Bombay, it turns out. I bust out laughing. So here I am, making a call to the US some 9000 miles away and another 9000 or so back, to talk to someone 250 miles south of me! This globalized world ...
Of NRIs and Forex
In the bad-old-days of the License Raj, the amount of foreign exchange (Forex) an Indian could take out of the country for a trip was limited. Currency controls were in place. The Rupee wasn't convertible, and so on. A lot of those restrictions have disappeared or eased after the new era of economic reforms that started in 1991. However, the Rupee isn't fully-convertible yet; and while restrictions have eased, they're still there.
I decided that it might be worthwhile to purchase some Euros here before the upcoming trip to Rome, so I called my dad's travel agency. One of the guys there quoted me a rate. It was about 2.5% higher than the daily spot rate. Ok, I won't save money (US banks charge some 2-3% + non-proprietary bank usage charges for any debit card/ATM transactions made overseas), but at least the money won't be going to Wachovia. "Ok, sir. If you can come over now, that would be better. The rates fluctuate ... " No problem. When I get there he informs me that for there is a 10,000INR limit on the amount of foreign exchange that can be purchased by a Non-Resident Indian while on a visit to India. That's barely 170€. I was a bit startled -- I'd figured the rules would be easier for an NRI. "Sir, we don't deal in forex here. If you don't mind, please come with me to this agency." Just up the street.
Accompanying him meant riding pillion oh his motor-cycle. I offered my car. "No sir, it will be simpler on a two-wheeler." I saw what he meant. The road is divided. In order to get to this other place, one would have to go drive down to a break in the median, turn around, and then drive back up. On a two-wheeler, however, one could just ignore the law, and go up the road on the wrong side. This is exactly the kind of behavior that infuriates me when I drive in India, but I was already seated, clutching my passport and checkbook (sorry, cheque book) in one hand, and holding on to the seat with the other.
At the other agency, the guy made photocopies of my passport. I tried to explain that I had an account with funds that were fully exportable. "Sorry sir, these are RBI rules." Yeah, of course. And then, "Umm. We don't have any 100€ notes. They'll come tomorrow. We only have 500€ notes." Which I'm willing to purchase, but you won't sell me! "Ok, I'll check back tomorrow."
Back home, I called my bank. Yes, the funds are exportable. And yes, they will issue travelers checks up to any amount that I wish. Great. Problem solved.
Well, at least I got a ride on a two-wheeler on the wrong side of the road!