Most Honest Cities: The Reader’s Digest “Lost Wallet” Test

What are the most (and least) honest cities in the world? Reader's Digest conducted a global, social experiment to find out.

From Reader's Digest International Editions
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    Kathrin Harms

    Our reporters "lost" 192 wallets in cities around the world.

    In each, we put a name with a cellphone number, a family photo, coupons, and business cards, plus the equivalent of $50. We "dropped" 12 wallets in each of the 16 cities we selected, leaving them in parks, near shopping malls, and on sidewalks. Then we watched to see what would happen.

    Lauri Rokto/City of Helsinki Tourist & Convention Bureau

    Most honest: Helsinki, Finland

    Wallets returned: 11 out of 12. Lasse Luomakoski, a 27-year-old businessman, found our wallet downtown. "Finns are naturally honest," he said. "We are a small, quiet, closely-knit community. We have little corruption, and we don't even run red lights." In the working-class area of Kallio, a couple in their sixties said, "Of course we returned the wallet. Honesty is an inner conviction."

    Snigdha Hasan

    Mumbai, India

    Wallets returned: 9 out of 12. Rahul Rai, a 27-year-old video editor, said, "My conscience wouldn't let me do anything wrong. A wallet is a big thing with many important documents [in it]." Vaishali Mhaskar, a mother of two, returned a wallet left in the post office. "I teach my children to be honest, just like my parents taught me," she said. Later that day, three young adults found our wallet and called us immediately.

    Péter Zsámboki

    Budapest, Hungary

    Wallets returned: 8 out of 12. Seventeen-year-old Regina Györfi called the cellphone number included in one of our wallets immediately after finding it a shopping mall. "I remember being in a car, when my dad noticed a wallet by the side of the road," she said. "When we reached the owner he was very grateful: Without the papers in the wallet he would have had to postpone his wedding which was to take place the very same day!" However, a woman in her early sixties opened the wallet, and then entered a nearby building. We never heard from her.

    Marc Yearsley

    New York City, U.S.A.

    Wallets returned: 8 out of 12. Richard Hamilton, a 36-year-old government worker from Brooklyn, found a wallet near City Hall and reunited it with us. "Everyone says New Yorkers are unfriendly but they’re really quite a nice people," he said. "I think you’d be very surprised to see how many New Yorkers would actually return [a wallet]." Not all New Yorkers were so honest: we watched a man in his twenties take money from the wallet to buy cigarettes at a convenience store. However, one of two 17-year-olds who found the billfold explained her motivation to get in touch: "I flipped through all the papers and saw the family photo and thought, 'Aw, he has two kids. We have to give this back.'" Another local told us, "It's so easy to be cynical. But especially after 9/11, that instilled companionship in everyone."

    miss_ohara via Flickr

    Moscow, Russia

    Wallets returned: 7 out of 12. Near the city's downtown zoo, Eduard Anitpin, an officer of Emergency Situations, handed our reporter's lost wallet to a security guard. "I am an officer and I am bound by an officer's ethical code," he said. "My parents raised me as an honest and decent man." Later, another do-gooder said, "I am convinced that people should help one another, and if I can make someone a little happier, I will."

    Goffe Struiksma/P-I.nl

    Amsterdam, the Netherlands

    Wallets returned: 7 out of 12. Some people who found the wallet were more moved by the euros inside than the photos we planted. But Julius Maarleveld spotted the lost wallet and entered a nearby liquor store. Our reporter followed, prompting Maarleveld to speak up: "Are you here for the wallet? If so, [the clerk] is just calling... My wife once lost her wallet. It was found and returned. Isn't honesty wonderful?" Angelique Monsieurs, 42, noticed our reporter drop the wallet on her way into a supermarket and waited for her to exit to reunite wallet and owner.

    Kathrin Harms

    Berlin, Germany

    Wallets returned: 6 out of 12. Seyran Coban, a teacher in training, got to the wallet at the same time as a young man but refused to let him have it. "I didn't trust that boy. People have often treated me with honesty, and if I do the same, that's what I'll get in return," she said. Abel Ben Salem, 46, told reporters he returned the wallet because, "I saw the photo of the mother with her child. Whatever else is important, a photo like that means something to the owner." Yet a man in his early forties quickly grabbed the wallet, put it in his bag, then spent ten minutes making call after call on his phone—none to us.

    Miha Bogovčič

    Ljubljana, Slovenia

    Wallets returned: 6 out of 12. We asked Manca Smolej, a 21-year-old student, whether she considered taking the money when she found our wallet. "No!" she replied. "My parents taught me how important being honest is. Once I lost an entire bag, but I got everything back. So, I know what it feels like." A man in his early fifties picked up our billfold, started to dial his phone but then stopped, took the wallet, and drove off in an expensive car.

    Mark Pringle

    London, England

    Wallets returned: 5 out of 12. Ursula Smist, 35, who is originally from Poland, retrieved our wallet and handed it over to her boss. "If you find money, you can't assume it belongs to a rich man," her manager said. "It might be the last bit of money a mother has to feed her family."

    Metaphox via Flickr

    Warsaw, Poland

    Wallets returned: 5 out of 12. Biotechnologist Marlena Kamínska, 28, picked up our wallet and hopped on the bus. Three hours later she called us after talking with coworkers. "There were those who advised me not to bother looking for the owner," she said. "But I thought that someone might badly need that money." As for the other seven wallets, they were all taken by women whom we never saw again.

    Reader's Digest staff

    Bucharest, Romania

    Wallets returned: 4 out of 12. Sonia Parvan, a 20-year-old student [right, with Cristina Topa], found our wallet and tracked us down. "I know how it feels to lose your wallet. My mother lost it once and didn't get it back," she said. We watched another young woman pick up one of our wallets, ask two passersby if it was theirs, then examine the contents closely and place it in her pocket. We didn't hear from her.

    Rodrigo_Soldon via Flickr

    Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

    Wallets returned: 4 out of 12. In a commercial area, a woman in her late twenties returned our wallet—without any money. But 73-year-old Delma Monteiro Brandāo handed one back after finding it while picking up her granddaughter at school. "This is not mine!" she said. "In my teens, I picked up a magazine in a department store and left without paying. When my mother found out, she told me this behavior was unacceptable."

    Reader's Digest staff

    Zurich, Switzerland

    Wallets returned: 4 out of 12. Jeanette Baum, a 38-year-old music teacher, discovered our wallet and sent email and texts to our reporter after calls didn't go through. "I know what it's like to lose something," she said. "The 'not knowing' afterwards is terrible. That's why I responded as fast as I could." Meanwhile, a tram driver in his early fifties pocketed the wallet, despite the fact that the transit company runs the city's lost and found office.

    Květa Surová

    Prague, Czech Republic

    Wallets returned: 3 out of 12. Petra Samcová recovered our reporter's wallet and didn't think twice about returning it. "It’s something you simply should do naturally," she said. Not so two young teenagers walking in a suburban housing estate on the outskirts of Prague, who put the wallet in a knapsack and left in a very good mood.

    H'anna Panofsky

    Madrid, Spain

    Wallets returned: 2 out of 12. Beatriz Lopez, a 22-year-old student, found our wallet in an upscale downtown area with her friend Lena Jansen, also 22. "We only wanted to give it back," she said. Jansen told reporters, "I couldn't keep a purse that wasn't mine."

    roger4336 via Flickr

    Least honest: Lisbon, Portugal

    Wallets returned: 1 out of 12. A couple in their sixties spotted our wallet and immediately called us. Interestingly, our reporter learned that the two weren't from Lisbon at all—they were visiting from Holland. The remaining eleven wallets were taken, money and all.

    Kathrin Harms

    The bottom line

    Of the 192 wallets dropped, 90 were returned—47 percent. As we looked over our results we found that age is no predictor of whether a person is going to be honest or dishonest; young and old both kept or returned wallets; male and female were unpredictable; and comparative wealth seemed no guarantee of honesty. There are honest and dishonest people everywhere.

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    Your Comments

    • Robert

      I’m surprised they didn’t try this in Tokyo. I’m certain that all 12 wallets would’ve been returned.

      There was an incident a few years ago where a mentally unstable man opened a window on the upper floor of an office building and tossed hundreds of thousands of Yen notes (worth about $40,000 in all, IIRC) down to the busy sidewalk. Passersby gathered them all up and took them to the police department.

    • World dater

      Yup I dated spaniard and I found her and the people she knew to be fun loving and into living in the moment but completely lacking in ethics. They consider you odd if you don’t accept stealing and cheating. Not surprised wallets not returned in madrid.

    • Steve Pegg

      Where can I check the rules followed by your called Wallet test?? Is not a very good journalistic practice to write about a result of an experience like the one you conducted without explaining exactly how the test was made. You are branding a city or the habitants of a x city as being dishonest by the simple result of a banal test. Or do you have any kind of an agenda behind this silly test?

    • Mario

      Well, that experiment seems to be intersting but it doesn’t actually show the honesty of people of that cities since all people are so different. So, arguing about which people are honest and which are not is useless.It’s so mainly because there are no bad nations in the world,there are bad people in it.

    • mihai

      must be something wrong. I’m from Romania and I can’t believe that 4 wallets return.
      Maybe that 4 finders were foreigners…

      • ApocalypseSoon

        agreed. gypsies are worse than blacks. also, notice they didnt even test africa. ‘we already know what would happen there’.

    • Bernardo Cunha

      “This is absurd!

      What scientific methods of sampling were used?

      What were the criteria to choose the cities?

      Population, race, religion, continent, country, other?

      Were Los Angeles, Newark, New York, Chicago, Miami, Las
      Vegas, and other great American cities selected for this test? If not, why not?

      Was the number of wallets “lost” proportionate to the
      population of the cities?

      Where the places where they were “lost” socially and
      economically comparable? By what standards?

      I am recommending that the Portuguese Government and
      the city of Lisbon sue you.

      If they don’t, I and thousands of other Lisbon residents
      will, as residents of Lisbon, unless you retract and apologize.”

    • Bernardo Cunha

      This is absurd!

      What scientific methods of sampling were used?

      What were the criteria to choose the cities?

      Population, race, religion, continent, country, other?

      Were Los Angeles, Newark, New York, Chicago, Miami, Las
      Vegas, and other great American cities selected for this test? If not, why not?

      Was the number of wallets “lost” proportionate to the
      population of the cities?

      Where the places where they were “lost” socially and
      economically comparable? By what standards?

      I am recommending that the Portuguese Government and
      the city of Lisbon sue you.

      If they don’t, I and thousands of other Lisbon residents
      will, as residents of Lisbon, unless you retract and apologize.

    • mundo

      I visited Lisbon twenty years ago. As soon as I exited the train station, I was offered “hashish?” “hashish?” by men hanging about on corners. Ten minutes later, a man sprinted down the sidewalk, followed by someone shouting to the crowd, “Stop him! He stole my purse!!” Less than 15 minutes later, another person’s purse was stolen in a similar fashion. As soon as that happened, I canceled my hotel reservations, went back to the train station, and got out of town. (I went to Figueira da Foz, Portugal instead – a far better choice!) Portugal’s a nice country, but I wouldn’t step foot in Lisbon again.

    • Fred

      This was silly, but fun. Statistically, the sample size was so small that it would be wrong to draw any reliable conclusions as to honesty of the cities involved. That being said, I do think sprinkling them around Congress would pretty much get you zero back. lmao

      • ApocalypseSoon

        they would take your money, then arrest you for littering.

    • O tuga

      That’s not fair… you probably put the wallet in front of the finance ministry of Portugal… it is completely normal that the wallet disappears like in the bermudas triangle… you were lucky that some tourists passed by and found the wallet ;)