De Confianza
 
While living in Barcelona, we bought a little book about Spanish culture, by the same publisher who brought us "Au Contraire -- How the French are Different from Americans", which we described in a previous travelogue. The book on Spain was similar to the one on France, in that it was aimed at American businessmen who need to work with Spanish counterparts and could profit from understanding the differences between how the Spanish and Americans do business. Alas, the book on Spain was not nearly as interesting as the one on France, maybe partly because we lived in Spain and already knew much of what it had to say.

But one feature was new to us. According to the book, the Spanish have a concept called "de confianza". Basically, a person is de confianza if they can be trusted -- our word would be "trustworthy". But, according to the book, the status of de confianza carries with it an entire level of trust higher than in America. For example, if you are de confianza you may enter into hand-shake agreements, possibly for millions of dollars, that are never backed up by written contracts. And if you are not de confianza, there may be deals you simply cannot enter into, even if you are willing to sign the most iron-clad contract.

We naturally doubted this distinction, but while we were in the Mediterranean we had three experiences that supported the claim that the concept of de confianza (or, in Italian, di confianza) is much more important there than it is in the US.

Our first experience involved replacement of our dinghy, "Nils", which we lost at sea off the Croatian coast (but that's another story). We were fortunate to have access to a telephone with internet connection at the home of our friends Sime and Cica Ungar in Mali Losinj, Croatia, so we set about the job of locating a new dinghy. We were very particular about the design and quality of the replacement dinghy, as we use our dinghy every day for basic transportation in all kinds of conditions, and expect it to last for many years. It took us 4 days of incessant calls and e-mails to manufacturers and dealers before we located anything like what we wanted -- the English-speaking owner of a chandlery in Trieste, Italy didn't have the dinghy we wanted but could order it for delivery in about the time it would take for us to sail there. After all the negotiations, she asked us to send her a deposit, as she would have to buy the dinghy from the manufacturer. We said sure, how about using our Visa card? She replied that they didn't accept credit cards; how about a bank transfer? We pointed out that we were in Croatia, where we didn't have a bank account. We all decided to get off the phone and explore the possibilities for sending money from Croatia to Italy. Both of us independently concluded that there was, basically, no way for us to do that. So we called back to the chandlery and the owner said "Well, we've decided that you are di confianza. We'll just order the dinghy and have it for you when you get here." We're not sure why we deserved this status; probably a combination of being Americans who live on a yacht and our willingness to look for ways to pay the deposit in the first place. As a result of her decision to treat us as di confianza, the store effectively extended us about $1250 on our word -- without ever having met us!

About three weeks later, we had our second experience with de confianza. We were in Ancona, Italy waiing for our friend, Nick Miller, to join us, so we used the time to try to identify what was wrong with our B&G wind instruments, which hadn't been working all summer. The head of the Italian B&G dealership drove across Italy to look at our system, and after performing numerous tests determined that we needed a new masthead unit ($1100 with discount). He knew that we needed it quickly, as we planned on leaving for Croatia, Greece, and finally Turkey two days hence, but again, his company did not accept credit cards. So he said, "Look, why don't I simply ship the masthead unit to you, and you arrange a bank transfer from the US to pay for it." We told him that this might take weeks to accomplish, and he simply shrugged. This, despite the fact that all he knew of us was that we were leaving imminently for parts unknown, and possibly were never returning to Italy! Next day, the unit arrived by express delivery, with a bill inside. Apparently, though this time nobody actually used the actual words, we were di confianza.

Our third experience was about a week later in Vis, an island off the Croatian coast. We had dinghied into town with Nick for our last night in Croatia, and had decided to buy three liters of cheap but very good local wine at a local bodega, then go out to dinner somewhere. Our Lonely Planet guide suggested a particular restaurant, and we asked the guy in the tourist office next to the bodega where the restaurant was. He took us outside in the street to show us, then said, "Wait! There's the owner of the restaurant!" At which point he called the gentleman over and introduced him. We said we planned to come to dinner at his place, and he welcomed us to do so. Meanwhile, Rob had gone into the bodega to buy the wine and discovered we didn't have enough Croatian Kunas to pay for it. So the restaurant owner said "How much do you need? 30 Kuna (about $5)? Here, let me lend it to you!" He gave Rob a 50 Kuna bill, saying he had no smaller change and we could repay him when we came to dinner, then drove off. Once again, apparently we were di confianza.

And of course, we are. We paid the deposit for the dinghy when we got to Trieste, before seeing the dinghy itself; we paid for the B&G masthead unit, actually returning to Italy to achieve this, instead of proceeding directly to Greece as we had planned; and we returned the 50 Kuna to the restaurateur before we sat down to dinner (which, by the way, was delicious).