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Bargains Next Door for Vacationing Argentines

LAST year, when Brazil devalued its currency, about the only Brazilians who cheered were businessmen in Florianopolis, a city and beach resort on Santa Catarina Island off the coast of Santa Catarina State. In Florianopolis, even the ``surf bums'' knew that hordes of Argentine tourists would come to take advantage of the lower prices the new exchange rate would offer them.

And come they did.

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In the southern hemisphere's summer that began in December, some 200,000 Argentines invaded Florianopolis and the white sandy beaches of Santa Catarina.

For the Brazilians there, it was a welcome invasion that instantly converted economic gloom to cheerful prosperity.

Argentine vacationers find accommodations and food relatively cheap in Santa Catarina.

The sand is powdery white and the sea is tropically warm.

The state's beaches are as beautiful as any in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil's best-known vacation resort - but 750 miles closer to Argentina and without Rio's reputation for urban violence and its higher cost of living.

Brazilians do their best to make the ``gringos,'' as they call the Argentines, feel at home.

A leading Florianopolis newspaper, the Diario Catarinense, prints a page of Argentine news in Spanish every day.

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Many restaurants offer Argentine-style beef dishes such as charcoal-broiled steak - as well as choice seafood - at prices comparable to those of fast-food restaurants in Argentina.

There is no real language problem.

Residents of the Santa Catarina region have for centuries spoken a special dialect, ``Portunhol,'' made up of Brazil's Portuguese and the Spanish of the rest of Latin America.

Argentine visitors have no trouble understanding it, though words that look alike sometimes have quite different meanings in Portugese and Spanish.

For example, exquisito in Spanish means what it sounds like in English but in Portuguese means ``smelly, malodorous.''

Argentines quickly learn the pitfalls of the Portunhol language.

On the beaches, young Brazilian women seem to have a dress code all their own.

They wear swimsuits so abbreviated they make ordinary bikinis look like longjohns.

Argentine women, more conservative than their Brazilian sisters, are at first shocked by the beach attire. But they get used to it.

As summer draws to a close, tens of thousands of Argentine tourists are now heading home after an inexpensive beach holiday, while their Brazilian hosts are totting up their profits from a good season.

Brazil's present tourism advantage over Argentina may soon be only a memory, however.

The pendulum has already swung the other way: Argentina recently halved the value of its currency, the austral.

In the next tourist season, it may be the Brazilians who will be vacationing in Argentina, shopping on Buenos Aires's elegant Calle Florida and feasting on the world's tastiest sirloin steaks at bargain prices.

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