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Communications

Internet

Inexpensive Internet access is widely available in Buenos Aires. Top-end hotels tend to have high-speed in-room data ports, while lower-budget establishments (including many hostels) have free Wi-Fi. Many hotels have a PC in the lobby for guests to use.

If you're traveling without a laptop, look for a ciber (Internet café) or locutorio (telephone and Internet center). It's hard to walk more than a block without coming across one. Expect to pay between 2 and 5 pesos per hour to surf the Web. Broadband connections are common.

Many bars and restaurants have free Wi-Fi—look out for stickers on their windows. In general, these are open networks and you don't need to ask for a password to use them. You can also find Wi-Fi in many hotel lobbies, libraries, business and event centers, some airports, and in public spaces—piggybacking is common practice.

Contact

Cybercafes lists over 4,000 Internet cafés worldwide.

Phones

The country code for Argentina is 54. To call landlines in Argentina from the United States, dial the international access code (011) followed by the country code (54), the two- to four-digit area code without the initial 0, then the six- to eight-digit phone number. For example, to call the Buenos Aires number (011) 4123-4567, you would dial 011-54-11-4123-4567.

Any number that is prefixed by a 15 is a cell-phone number. To call cell phones from the United States, dial the international access code (011) followed by the country code (54), Argentina's cell phone code (9), the area code without the initial 0, then the seven- or eight-digit cell phone number without the initial 15. For example, to call the Buenos Aires cell phone (011) 15 5123-4567, you would dial 011-54-9-11-5123-4567.

Customs of the Country

Welcoming and helpful, porteños are a pleasure to travel among. They have more in common with, say, Spanish or Italians, than other Latin Americans. However, although cultural differences between here and North America are small, they're still palpable.

Porteños are usually fashionably late for all social events—don't be offended if someone keeps you waiting over half an hour for a lunch or dinner date. However, tardiness is frowned upon in the business world.

Political correctness isn't a valued trait, and just about everything and everyone—except mothers—is a target for playful mockery. Locals are often disparaging about their country's shortcomings, but Argentina-bashing is a privilege reserved for Argentineans.

Sadly, the attitudes of many porteños toward foreigners vary greatly according to origin and race. White Europeans and North Americans are held in far greater esteem than, say, Peruvians or Bolivians. Racist reactions—anything from insults or name-calling to giving short shrift—to Asian, black, or Native American people are, unfortunately, not unusual. Although there's little you can do about this in day-to-day dealings, Argentina does have an antidiscrimination body, Institución Nacional contra la Discriminación, la Xenofobia y el Racismo (INADI; www.inadi.gov.ar) that you can contact if you're the victim of serious discrimination.

Greetings

Porteños have no qualms about getting physical, and the way they greet each other reflects this. One kiss on the right cheek is the customary greeting between both male and female friends. Women also greet strangers in this way, although men—especially older men—often shake hands the first time they meet someone. Other than that, handshaking is seen as very cold and formal.

When you arrive at a party it's normal to kiss and greet absolutely everyone in the room (or, if you're in a restaurant, everyone at your table). When you leave, you say good-bye to everyone and repeat the performance.

Porteños only use the formal "you" form, usted, with people much older than them or in very formal situations, and the casual greeting ¡Hola! often replaces buen día, buenas tardes, and buenas noches. In small towns formal greetings and the use of usted are much more widespread.

Sightseeing

You can dress pretty much as you like: skimpy clothing causes no offense. Argentine men almost always allow women to go through doors and board buses and elevators first, often with exaggerated ceremony. Far from finding this sexist, local women take it as a god-given right. Frustratingly, there's no rule about standing on one side of escalators to allow people to pass you.

Despite bus drivers' best efforts, locals are reluctant to move to the back of buses. Pregnant women, the elderly, and those with disabilities have priority on the front seats of city buses; offer them your seat if these are taken.

Children and adults selling pens, notepads, or sheets of stickers are regular fixtures on urban public transport. Some children also hand out tiny greeting cards in exchange for coins. The standard procedure is to accept the merchandise or cards as the vendor moves up the carriage, then either return the item (saying no, gracias) or give them money when they return.

Most porteños are hardened jaywalkers, but given how reckless local driving can be, you'd do well to cross at corners, wait for pedestrian lights, and even then keep a close eye on nearby cars.

Out on the Town

A firm nod of the head or raised eyebrow usually gets waiters' attention; "disculpa" (excuse me) also does the trick. You can ask your waiter for la cuenta (the check) or make a signing gesture in the air from afar.

Alcohol—especially wine and beer—is a big part of life in Argentina. Local women generally drink less than their foreign counterparts, but there are no taboos about this. Social events usually end in general tipsiness rather than all-out drunkenness, which is seen as a rather tasteless foreign habit.

Smoking is very common in Argentina, but antismoking legislation introduced in Buenos Aires in 2006 has banned smoking in all but the largest cafés and restaurants (which must have extractor fans and designated smoking areas). Smoking is prohibited on public transport, in government offices, in banks, and in cinemas.

Public displays of affection between heterosexual couples attract little attention in most parts of the country; beyond downtown Buenos Aires, same-sex couples may attract hostile reactions.

All locals tend to make an effort to look nice—though not necessarily formal—for dinner out. Older couples get very dressed up for the theater; younger women usually put on high heels and makeup for clubbing.

If you're invited to someone's home for dinner, a bottle of good Argentine wine is the best gift to take to the hosts.

Language

Argentina's official language is Spanish, known locally as castellano (rather than español). It differs from other varieties of Spanish in its use of vos (instead of ) for the informal "you" form. Locals readily understand the use of but you blend in more with vos. You conjugate it by simply replacing the "r" of the infinitive with "s" and placing the stress (and accent) on the last syllable; thus the vos form of caminar (to walk) is "vos caminás", and of decir (to say) is "vos decís." The verb ser (to be) is irregular: "vos sos" (you are) is the local equivalent of "tú eres."

There are also lots of small vocabulary differences, especially for everyday things like food. Porteño intonation is rather singsong, and sounds more like Italian than Mexican or peninsular Spanish. And, like Italians, porteños supplement their words with lots and lots of gesturing. Another porteño peculiarity is pronouncing the letters "y" and "ll" as a "sh" sound.

In hotels, restaurants, and shops that cater to visitors, many people speak at least some basic English; in less touristy places, English-speaking staff are rarer. Attempts to speak Spanish are usually appreciated. Basic courtesies like buen día (good morning) or buenas tardes (good afternoon), and por favor (please) and gracias (thank you) are a good place to start. Even if your language skills are basic and phrasebook bound, locals generally make an effort to understand you.

Buenos Aires' official tourism body runs a free, 24-hour tourist assistant hotline with English-speaking operators, 0800/999-2838.

Calling Within Argentina

Argentina's phone service is run by the duopoly of Telecom and Telefónica. Telecom does the northern half of Argentina (including the northern half of the city of Buenos Aires) and Telefónica does the south. However, both companies operate public phones and phone centers, called locutorios or telecentros, throughout the city.

Service is generally efficient, and direct dialing—both long-distance and international—is universal. You can make local and long-distance calls from your hotel (usually with a surcharge) and from any public phone or locutorio. Public phones aren't particularly abundant, and are often broken. All accept coins; some have slots for phone cards.

Locutorios are useful if you need to make lots of calls or don't have coins on you. Ask the receptionist for una cabina (a booth), make as many local, long-distance, or international calls as you like (a small LCD display tracks how much you've spent), then pay as you leave. There's no charge if you don't get through.

All of Argentina's area codes are prefixed with a 0, which you need to include when dialing another area within Argentina. You don't need to dial the area code to call a local number. Confusingly, area codes and phone numbers don't all have the same number of digits. The area code for Buenos Aires is 011, and phone numbers have eight digits. Area codes for the rest of the country have three or four digits, and start with 02 (the southern provinces, including Buenos Aires province) or 03 (the northern provinces); phone numbers have six or seven digits.

For local directory assistance (in Spanish), dial 110.

Local calls cost 23¢ for two minutes at peak time (weekdays 8–8 and Saturday 8–1) or four minutes the rest of the time. Long-distance calls cost 57¢ per ficha (unit)—the farther the distance, the shorter each unit. For example, 57¢ lasts about two minutes to places less than 55 km (34 mi) away, but only half a minute to somewhere more than 250 km (155 mi) away.

To make international calls from Argentina, dial 00, then the country code, area code, and number. The country code for the United States is 1.

Great Films

Two local hustlers try to out-con each other in the Fabián Bielinsky's fabulous Nine Queens, mostly filmed in Puerto Madero. Israel Caetano's gripping political thriller Chronicle of an Escape is based on four men's real-life attempt to escape the death-squads of Argentina's last dictatorship. Jewish neighborhood Once is the backdrop for Daniel Burman's bittersweet comedy about family and identity, Lost Embrace. A gloriously retro Buenos Aires is one of the stars of Valentín, a moving comedy about a young boy directed by Alejandro Agresti.

Calling Cards

You can use prepaid calling cards (tarjetas prepagas) to make local and international calls from public phones, but not locutorios. All cards come with a scratch-off panel, which reveals a pin number. You dial a free access number, the pin number, and the number you wish to call.

Most kioscos and small supermarkets sell prepaid cards from different companies: specify it's for llamadas internacionales (international calls), and compare each card's per-minute rates to the country you want to call. Many cost as little as 9¢ per minute for calls to the United States.

Telecom and Telefónica also sell prepaid 5-, 10-, and 20-peso calling cards from kioscos and locutorios. They're called Tarjeta Países and GeoDestino, respectively. Calls to the United. States cost 19¢ per minute using both.

Calling card information

Telecom (800/888–0110. www.telecom.com.ar.)

Telefónica (800/333–4004. www.telefonica.com.ar.)

Mobile Phones

Mobile phones are immensely popular; all are GSM 850/1900 Mhz. If you have an unlocked dual-band GSM phone from North America and intend to call local numbers, it makes sense to buy a prepaid Argentinean SIM card on arrival—rates will be cheaper than using your U.S. network or renting a phone. Alternatively, you can buy a basic pay-as-you-go handset and SIM card for around 130 pesos.

All Argentine cell-phone numbers use a local area code, then the cell phone prefix (15), then a seven- or eight-digit number. To call a cell phone in the same area as you, dial 15 and the number. To call a cell phone in a different area, dial the area code including the initial 0, then 15, then the number.

Local charges vary depending on factors like the company and time of day, but most cost between 50¢ and 1.50 pesos per minute. Calls to phones from the same company as yours are usually cheaper.

There are three main mobile phone companies in Argentina: Movistar, owned by Telefónica, Claro, and Personal. Their prices are similar, but Claro is said to have better coverage, Movistar has the most users, and Personal is the least popular service, so cards can be harder to find. All three companies have offices and sales stands all over the country.

You only pay for outgoing calls, which cost between 25¢ and 1 peso a minute. You can buy a SIM card (tarjeta SIM) from any of the companies' outlets. Top up credit by purchasing pay-as-you-go cards (tarjetas de celular) at kioscos, locutorios, supermarkets, and gas stations, or by carga virtual (virtual top-ups) at locutorios, where sales clerks can add credit to your line directly.

You can rent a cell at the airport from Phonerental, which also delivers to hotels. A basic handset is free for the first week and 20 pesos weekly thereafter; outgoing local calls cost 72¢ per minute, but you pay 60¢ per minute to receive both local and international calls. For very short stays, however, renting a can be good value.

Contacts

Cellular Abroad (800/287–5072. www.cellularabroad.com.)

Claro (800/1232-5276. www.claro.com.ar.)

Mobal (888/888–9162. www.mobalrental.com.)

Movistar (11/5321–1111. www.movistar.com.ar.)

Personal (800/444–0800. www.personal.com.ar.)

PlanetFone (888/988–4777. www.planetfone.com.)