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Business Hours The following are general open hours; specific establishments may vary. Banks: Monday to Friday 9am to 4pm (some are also open Sat 9am-noon). Most banks and other outlets offer 24-hour access to automated teller machines (ATMs). Offices: Monday to Friday 9am to 5pm. Stores: Monday to Saturday 10am to 6pm, and some also on Sunday from noon to 5pm. Malls usually stay open until 9pm Monday to Saturday, and department stores are usually open until 9pm at least 1 day a week.

Electricity Like Canada, the United States uses 110-120 volts AC (60 cycles), compared to 220-240 volts AC (50 cycles) in most of Europe, Australia, and New Zealand. Downward converters that change 220-240 volts to 110-120 volts are difficult to find in the United States, so bring one with you.

Emergencies Call tel. 911 for fire, police, and ambulance.

If you encounter serious problems, contact Traveler's Aid International at www.travelersaid.org to help direct you to a local branch. This nationwide, nonprofit, social-service organization geared to helping travelers in difficult straits offers services that might include reuniting families separated while traveling, providing food and/or shelter to people stranded without cash, or even emotional counseling. If you're in trouble, seek them out.

How to Make International Calls Generally, hotel surcharges on long-distance and local calls are astronomical, so you're better off using your cellphone or a public pay telephone. Many convenience groceries and packaging services sell prepaid calling cards in denominations up to $50; for international visitors these can be the least expensive way to call home. Many public phones at airports now accept American Express, MasterCard, and Visa credit cards. Local calls made from public pay phones in most locales cost either 35¢ or 50¢. Pay phones do not accept pennies, and few will take anything larger than a quarter.

Most long-distance and international calls can be dialed directly from any phone. For calls within the United States and to Canada, dial 1 followed by the area code and the seven-digit number. For other international calls, dial 011 followed by the country code, city code, and the number you are calling.

For reversed-charge or collect calls, and for person-to-person calls, dial the number 0 then the area code and number; an operator will come on the line, and you should specify whether you are calling collect, person-to-person, or both. If your operator-assisted call is international, ask for the overseas operator.

For local directory assistance ("information"), dial 411; for long-distance information, dial 1 and then the appropriate area code and 555-1212.

Just because your cellphone works at home doesn't mean it'll work everywhere in the U.S. (thanks to our nation's fragmented cellphone system). Take a look at your wireless company's coverage map on its website before heading out. If you need to stay in touch at a destination where you know your phone won't work, rent a phone that does from InTouch USA (tel. 800/872-7626; www.intouchglobal.com) or a rental car location, but beware that you'll pay $1 a minute or more for airtime.

If you're not from the U.S., you'll be appalled at the poor reach of our GSM (Global System for Mobile Communications) wireless network, which is used by much of the rest of the world. Your phone will probably work in most major U.S. cities; it definitely won't work in many rural areas. To see where GSM phones work in the U.S., check out www.t-mobile.com/coverage/national_popup.asp. And you may or may not be able to send SMS (text messaging) home.

Internet Access It's easy to stay connected in Pittsburgh, especially if you're staying downtown: The entire downtown is wired for free high-speed Wi-Fi (wireless fidelity) access. In other areas of town, more and more hotels, resorts, cafes, and retailers are going Wi-Fi, becoming "hotspots" that offer free Wi-Fi access or charge a small fee for usage (most laptops sold today have built-in wireless capability). If you're traveling to Pittsburgh by air, keep in mind that Pittsburgh International Airport offers free Wi-Fi throughout all four airside concourses -- A, B, C and D -- the core and the AIRMALL food courts, and in the US Airways Club in the airside core. To find public Wi-Fi hotspots in Pittsburgh, go to www.jiwire.com; its Hotspot Finder holds the world's largest directory of public wireless hotspots.

If you aren't bringing your laptop with you, you can stay connected at one of the city's cybercafes (average cost: $4-$5/hr.), which provide computer stations with fully loaded software (as well as Wi-Fi); ask your concierge for recommendations. Note that hotels often feature a computer room with fully loaded computer stations for guests. Copy shops like FedEx Kinko's also offer computer stations and Wi-Fi services; to find locations in Pittsburgh, go to www.fedex.com.

For dial-up access, most business-class hotels in the U.S. offer dataports for laptop modems, and thousands of hotels in the U.S. and Europe now offer free high-speed Internet access. Wherever you go, bring a connection kit of the right power and phone adapters, a spare phone cord, and a spare Ethernet network cable -- or find out whether your hotel supplies them to guests.

Liquor Laws The legal age for purchase and consumption of alcoholic beverages in Pennsylvania is 21. Proof of age is a necessity -- it's often requested at bars, nightclubs, and restaurants, so always bring ID when you go out.

In Pennsylvania, liquor and wine are sold only in state-run stores (open 7 days a week). You can purchase beer at some bars and at beer distributors, but not in grocery stores or convenience stores.

Do not carry open containers of alcohol in your car or any public area that isn't zoned for alcohol consumption -- the police can fine you on the spot. Nothing will ruin your trip faster than getting a citation for DUI ("driving under the influence"), so don't even think about driving while intoxicated.

Mail At press time, domestic postage rates were 24¢ for a postcard and 41¢ for a letter. For international mail, a first-class letter of up to 1 ounce costs 90¢ (69¢ to Canada and Mexico); and a first-class postcard costs 90¢ (69¢ to Canada and Mexico. For more information go to www.usps.com and click on "Calculate Postage."

If you aren't sure what your address will be in the United States, mail can be sent to you, in your name, c/o General Delivery at the main post office of the city or region where you expect to be. (Call tel. 800/275-8777 for information on the nearest post office.) The addressee must pick up mail in person and must produce proof of identity (driver's license, passport, and so forth). Most post offices will hold your mail for up to 1 month.

Always include zip codes when mailing items in the U.S. If you don't know your zip code, visit www.usps.com/zip4.

Pittsburgh's downtown post office is located at 700 Grant St. (tel. 412/642-0769); it's open Monday through Friday from 7am to 6pm, and Saturdays from 7am to 2pm. For specific branch information, call tel. 800/275-8777 or log on to www.usps.com.

Newspapers & Magazines Pittsburgh has two major daily newspapers: the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. The New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, and USA Today are widely available. The Pittsburgh City Paper (CP) is a free art, entertainment, and news alternative weekly found in coffee shops, convenience stores, restaurants, and bookstores; it comes out every Wednesday. The official Pittsburgh tourism bureau, VisitPittsburgh, puts out EventSource, a free quarterly calendar booklet you can pick up in hotels and visitor information centers. Pittsburgh Magazine is a glossy entertainment and lifestyle monthly that also publishes an annual City Guide.

Police Call tel. 911 for emergencies. The headquarters for the Pittsburgh Bureau of Police is at 1203 Western Ave. (tel. 412/323-7800).

Safety Pittsburgh takes pride in its reputation as one of the safest big cities in the country; its low crime rate is one of the factors that went into its selection as "America's Most Livable City" in 2007 by Places Rated Almanac. That's not to say that the city is crime-free. Take the usual common-sense precautions: Avoid deserted areas, especially at night, and don't venture into public parks at night unless a concert or other similar event is attracting crowds. Keep your money and valuables in a safe place, and always lock your hotel door. If you're driving, buckle up: The city has made a concerted effort to crack down on drivers who aren't wearing seatbelts; passengers are required to buckle up as well.

Smoking At press time, smokers still had the right to light up wherever they're welcome: A county-wide smoking ban that would prohibit smoking in nearly all indoor public places in Pittsburgh remains in limbo, stalled by legal challenges.

Taxes Shopper alert: Pittsburgh (and Pennsylvania) has no sales tax on clothing. Sales tax for restaurant meals and general sales is 7%. Hotels tack on a room (or occupancy) tax of 14%.

The United States has no value-added tax (VAT) or other indirect tax at the national level. Every state, county, and city has the right to levy its own local tax on all purchases, including hotel and restaurant checks, airline tickets, and so on.

Time Zone The United States is divided into six time zones. From east to west, these zones are Eastern Standard Time (EST), Central Standard Time (CST), Mountain Standard Time (MST), Pacific Standard Time (PST), Alaska Standard Time (AST), and Hawaii Standard Time (HST). Always keep the changing time zones in mind if you are traveling (or even telephoning) over long distances in the United States. Noon in New York City (EST), for example, is 11am in Chicago (CST), 10am in Phoenix (MST), 9am in Los Angeles (PST), 8am in Anchorage (AST), and 7am in Honolulu (HST).

Pittsburgh observes Eastern Standard Time. Daylight saving time is in effect from the second Sunday in March through the first Sunday in November (actually, the change is made at 2am on Sun). Daylight saving time moves the clock 1 hour ahead of standard time. (Americans use the adage "spring ahead, fall back" to remember which way to change their clocks and watches.)

Tipping Tips are a very important part of certain workers' income, and gratuities are the standard way of showing appreciation for services provided. (Tipping is certainly not compulsory if the service is poor.) In hotels, tip bellhops at least $1 per bag ($2-$3 if you have a lot of luggage) and tip the chamber staff $1 to $2 per day (more if you've left a disaster area to clean up). Tip the doorman or concierge only if he or she has provided you with some specific service (for example, calling a cab for you or obtaining difficult-to-get theater tickets). Tip the valet-parking attendant $1 every time you get your car.

In restaurants, bars, and nightclubs, tip service staff 15% to 20% of the check, tip bartenders 10% to 15%, tip checkroom attendants $1 per garment, and tip valet-parking attendants $1 per vehicle.

As for other service personnel, tip cab drivers 15% of the fare; tip skycaps at airports $1 to $2 per bag ($2-$3 if you have a lot of luggage); and tip hairdressers and barbers 15% to 20%.

Water Pittsburgh enjoys fine-quality tap water, both for drinking and bathing.

Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.