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
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
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).