HAVANA, April (http://www.cubanet.org) - The youngest of my three children asked me the other day to get him a cell phone.
For a Cuban, having a functioning cell phone is like renting a dream.
I suppose a relative or friend abroad could send someone the phone, but to get a line and a number, there’s the dream.
If you are a foreigner, you can go to any CUBACEL office, present your passport, and get service. You can buy a Nokia phone for $125.00, or rent it for $7.00 per day. The service contract will cost you $60.00 in addition to a $20.00 deposit.
The contract charges for calls you place within Cuba, at $0.50 a minute daytime and $0.40 a minute at night, and calls abroad at $2.70 per minute to the U. S., $3.40 per minute to Mexico and the Caribbean, and $5.85 per minute to Europe.
The calls you receive are billed at $0.45 a minute in the daytime and $0.36 per minute at night.
But a cell phone in Cuba has become more than something that allows you to be heard. It also allows you to be seen. It has become a status symbol.
Those who have them, never put them away. Cuban cell phone etiquette requires that the phone be kept visible at all times. When people use them at home, they do so from the balcony, where they can be seen by neighbors and passersby.
Those who in addition have a car, ride around the city while talking on the phone. The accepted style is hands-free, holding the phone between the ear and shoulder.
My six-year-old would not understand why he couldn’t really have a cell phone, but I managed to find a toy phone which I bought for a dollar at one of the government’s hard-currency shops.
When he saw it, he was ecstatic. He said, “Dad, that’s exactly what I wanted,” and gave me a kiss.