By D. E. Finley
It’s always tough entertaining houseguests. What better way to show my in-laws Brazil, I thought, than bringing them along on a typical errand. They’d traveled all this way from Connecticut, squeezed into economy coach, forced to eat airline cuisine and with unruly teenagers compulsively kicking the back of their seats and uttering obscenities that would make radio shock jock, Howard Stern blush. Going on an errand would be a piece of cake.

I got a document from our realtor in Texas that needed to be signed, and returned in the overnight UPS envelope that he supplied. Yeah, right, overnight” – our realtor has always been a bit delusional (even since he got out of the Betty Ford Clinic). This should be straightforward though, I thought. I’ll give my in-laws a trip to the UPS office so that they can see how we do it here in Brazil – just like home, (that is according to the US commercials anyway). I’ll know how I’m supposed to do it, once I call the UPS 1-800 number (collect) on our new phone that my in-laws trekked in their suitcase from Connecticut, (along with People magazines, Little Debbie snack cakes, Bubba’s salsa, SPAM, controversial bumper stickers, women’s size 10 shoes and jeans, bun and thigh roller, a weed whacker, and a George Foreman grill). Thank goodness my father in-law added motorized wheels to their suitcases.

I called the 1-800 UPS phone number to see where an office was in Campinas, or better yet the upscale, safe (during daylight), little walkable town of Cambui. I could impress the in-laws with my expertise of the place – copy shop, post office, buffet restaurant, hotel, beauty salon, clothing boutique, language school, palm reader, and plastic surgery clinic – the essentials.

The US UPS customer service rep on the line had other things in mind for my destiny, (in addition to giving me a migraine). She gave me the number of the UPS customer service center in Brazil to check for a local UPS location. Since I couldn’t impress my in-laws with my ability to actually figure out a location, since I don’t speak enough Portuguese to call the UPS Brazil number, it was time to check the website. No luck with the UPS website either for Brazil in Portuguese. (Although, out of curiosity, I did find shipping information for countries like Albania, Bangladesh, Estonia, Rwanda, Swaziland, Yap, and Zambia.) No worries. I would simply sign this document, xerox it, and send it via overnight mail at the Correrio (post office). What a thrill for my in-laws to get to experience this.

Then, I read the fine print on the real estate document, (actually, the regular size print, which I figured I’d better read before signing the thing). Apparently, I needed a witness and to get the document notarized. I called the realtor to confirm this.

“Yes, you need to get the document notarized. But, let me know if you have any problems.”

Time to instant message my husband about this matter. He would ask his Brazilian co-workers and the challenge would be tackled, like the last fifty something tasks they’ve handled since our move here.

“You can get it notarized at a gray building in Cambui. I’m in a meeting, ” my husband replied, preoccupied.

Hmm. a gray building narrowed it down somewhat but where?

“Where?” I typed back.

“I went there a while back. It’s near where you get your haircut or near the post office. I’m not certain.”

Since the two places were miles apart, I asked for more specifics, “Now, I’m totally confused. Which one is it near?”

“Near the hair salon I think. I’m still in a meeting.” Now, he sounded stressed to the point where that blue vein pops out on his forehead.

Oh well. We’ll find it I hoped. Even if it takes a few extra turns down one-way streets, it will give my in-laws a chance to experience more of Brazil (and hopefully, not the Brazilian justice system). That’s excitement all in its’ self. Driving in my Honda Fit by my hair salon in Cambui, I slowed down, looking for a gray building.

To stay focused, I tried to ignore the cars honking and my in-law’s questions, “Why are they honking? Are we lost? Is this an armored car by any chance?”

Light blue, peach, pink, lime green, white, and other colors but no gray building. After the third loop around the block I phone my husband again. Then, I remembered that talking on a phone without a headset while driving is illegal. It didn’t help hearing a siren behind me either.

“Sweet pea,” (Now, I was concerned about his blood pressure.) “it’s a block or so near the hair salon. I’m in a meeting… You can always ask at the Muito Confort hotel where we stayed last November. Someone there has got to remember us.” And how could we forget them either, after they gave our rental car to another hotel guest who was driving to Rio de Janeiro.

I decided instead to stop at the copy store next to the Correiro (post office) thinking that maybe they would be able to notarize my document. Then from there, I could mail it. I pantomimed signing the paper to the clerk behind the counter. She turned up the radio, imitated my movements, and started swinging and singing to the music. I guess all my years in drama school didn’t paid off. But, maybe I could make it as a dance instructor.

I pantomimed further, holding the pen but not actually writing with it, and then stamped the paper with my fist to indicate that this was an official document. The woman, pulled out a stamp from the drawer. The stamp said, the Portuguese equivalent to “Office Depot”. Not the official stamp I was hoping for.

Meanwhile, I saw my in-laws rubber necking in the back seat, noting the transaction. Either that or they were doing a yoga stretch or trying to get air since the windows were closed and it was a very warm, sunny day. (I know how dangerous it is to leave dogs in the car for more than ten minutes on a warm day in Austin so I was a bit worried.)

After reviving my in-laws and since I had no luck at the copy place, I drove around another new block. I spotted a gray building with an official looking sign on it. I left my in-laws in the car with the motor running to keep them in air conditioning and Portuguese tunes.

I pressed a button to speak into an intercom at the gate until someone answered. A bothered sounding employee interrogated me in Portuguese.

I figured she was saying, “What the Hell do you want, estrangerio?”

Six confused but helpful employees later, I was in and out of the gray building, still trying to find a notary. My in-laws continued to wait in the parked car with the engine running and their noses pressed against the glass windows.

I sprinted to the Muito Confort three blocks away to see if maybe they could help me find or by some miracle even have a notary. Five helpful Muito Confort employees later, I left armed with a Cambui map, the gray building’s address, and a word in Portuguese, “Cartorio”, describing what I was looking for. (I was just thankful that it wasn’t a restroom I needed like my first week in Brazil.)

Ah, now I could really, really impress my in-laws with my adaptability. I ran back to the car in my flip-flop sandals on the cobble stone side walk (another amazing feat). They had either been patiently waiting for me or were comatose. I played it safe and took their pulse.

“I’m sorry,” I explained. “I have finally gotten the address of this place. They say it’s a gray building too, like Bob, and everything.

Although my in-laws weren’t very expressive, since they both blinked, I figured that were happy with the news. I found the Cartorio gray building, passed the Cartorio gray building, went around the block to return to it. I pulled into a pay parking lot. My in-laws opted to wait in the car while the parking attendant parked them into a shady spot. Then, he made sure to check their vital signs (and their money belts).

I jogged to the gray building and discovered that it is closed down. The security guard next door informed me that there was another Cartorio, across from the Pizza Hut in Cambui.

I eased into to telling my in-laws the situation, by suggesting lunch, and a mini walking tour of Cambui.

“That sounds good,” they answered.

“As long as there’s not any walking involved,” my mother-inlaw added.

We ate a nice buffet lunch at Romanas, although it was noisier and more crowded than I had remembered it. We were squeezed in line like commuters on Hong Kong subway. My mother-in-law and I put in our earplugs and my father-in-law took out his hearing aides. Then, we sat down to enjoy a delicious, meal and freshly squeezed orange juice.

Afterwards, we stopped in the Catholic church across the street, and then moved onto Fruitas de Cambui (which reminds me that I left my groceries in the car). Then it was on to a dress shop, where friendly sales clerks stalked us.

“I’m checking to see how your lighting is wired, ” my father-in-law replied in English to the salesperson who was a rung below him on his fold-out ladder. He’s more of a handy man than a shopper. So, I guess she was afraid of the repair work he was planning.

After the mini tour of Cambui, I suggested that we stop by the Cartorio near the Pizza Hut, since it was probably on the way home.

“Does it need to be done right away?” they asked.

“Well, they sent me an overnight envelope, ” I answered.

Parking at the Pizza Hut, my in-laws opted to wait in the car again. I went into the Pizza Hut to see if they knew where the Cartorio was. Luckily, I spoted a courier on a motor cycle parking outside, since I’d gotten no answer from the entire Pizza Hut staff. The courier happened to be delivering a letter (and a Feijoada a brasileira lover’s pizza) to the same building as the Cartorio.

“735”. He replied pointing across the street and four lanes of traffic.

I thanked him and went into the building. There were six different lines to choice from. I realized after standing in one line for ten minutes. Then, I saw a word on one of the signs that matched my piece of paper, “Cartorio”. I waited (and waited and waited) until it was my turn. The woman took my real estate document to another paper pushing specialist who examined it, then and forwarded on and on and on to other paper pushing specialists.

“This has to be written in Portuguese, ” one of the specialists explained to me. “You are in the wrong place.”

I did a pantomime of myself signing the document and made a stamp motion with my fist, like I’d done for the tenth time that day.

Then an English speaking associate told me, “Ah, I understand. You want a notary. Let me write the address for you. It’s only a five minute taxi ride away into downtown Campinas.”

“That’s okay,” I explained. “I will do this another day. Thanks for the information.”

The associate continued to try to persuade me to take the taxi ride and another associated chimed into to support him, saying how convenient it was. But, I’d impressed my in-laws enough for one day. They’d be visiting for two weeks, and I only had two errands left to run after this one.

Copyright D. E. Finley 2005.

To read previous articles by D. E. Finley click below:

Brazil Life: Got Floss
Brazil Life: Hiring a Maid
Brazil Life: Brazilians are so Nice
Brazil Life: Gringa Goes Shopping at Carrefour
Brazil Life: Amazon Encounter Lodge Vacation
Brazil Life: Keeping Track of My Purse

D.E. Finley is a writer and graphic artist. You can visit her website at

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