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.

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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/

    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

    • Rui

      I am from Lisbon.. Two months ago my little sister arrived home with a wallet asking me what to do with it. I immediately picked up the car and took her (and the wallet) to the nearest police station, as there were no phone number in the wallet.

      I fell shame and I felt quite surprised with this article, although I don’t deny it.

      Surprisingly even I feel with some ridiculous comments over here. First because one factor to measure corruption is simply not enough. Second, it is a small sample. And yes, there is corruption in Portugal, especially in the public sector and government.

      Countries like the Nordic ones are much healthier and therefore there are less incentives to keep what is not yours. For instance, in Norway with the equivalent of 50 dollars you drink some beers. In Portugal you can have 40 vodka shots in a normal bar. It is a lot of money in Lisbon. Some people earn less than 3 euros per hour (like I had earn a couple of years ago).

      I remember now, some years ago, I left my wallet in the train, and when I was moving out, a girl called for me with my wallet in her hands while the train door was almost closed. If I put my “personal study” here Lisbon would be a pretty honest city. Once again it is a small sample.

      Do not generalize these for all people in a city… that is non sense. There are good and bad people everywhere. I am glad I am part of the guys, anywhere I go and anywhere I am. And I learnt so during my youth in Lisbon.

    • Johnny Mick

      Sample size, sample size, sample size. Dropping twelve wallets is not nearly enough to make the kind of the claims that this article makes. Come on now.

      • leo

        The only thing the article states is how many out of 12 dropped wallets were returned. It’s pretty straight forward actually. What part don’t you understand?

    • Ricky Wong

      This test was not reliable as the money inside the wallet was too small. How many people would be interested in $50 ? I wouldn’t be interested either. To say someone is honest just because he/she returns wallet with $50 is not logical. Put big amount of money and see whether anybody returns it. If you think a city is honest, then put a big amount of money like $3000 or more…the larger amount of money, the better, and only then true honesty can be proven!

    • Akira Uchimura

      Wondering why TOKYO, Japan was not included in the test. I am sure it will be on the top list.

    • NuuNuu

      All of these comments seems to base on experiences concerning the city/nation in particular, OR if they live in that country, they reflect the result to their own behaviour if they’d come across with a missing wallet.
      I for instance, who live in Finland, wasn’t surprised about our result. I have always had my missing item back (happened two or three times), and I would always make an effort to find the owner, if I ever found such an item myself.

      I once found a mobile phone lying on the ground. I first tried to call to a number that said “Home”, but when no one answered, I did some research and found out the name of the owner’s husband. I found his number from the phone, and called him. Then I took the phone to their house personally. Not only I felt good about returning the phone, but I also loved the challenge. :)

    • Paul K

      My mom, in her purse, carries cash, credit cards, ID, and (against my objections) blank checks. She lives in a suburb of Pittsburgh. She lost it twice this year. The first time, it was returned with everything. The second time, it wasn’t returned. Although the person who found the purse the second time did not try to use the credit cards, they did write 2 checks that totaled approximately $1000.
      She has a long last name that is tough for someone to write. I’m willing to bet that if she had a nice, easy name, like ‘Smith’ or ‘Jones’, they might have tried to use more checks. Needless to say, my mom no longer carries blank checks with her.

    • Fleemis

      Silly “experiment”. Does anyone really believe that a person’s city of residence can be taken as any reasonable determinant of individual honesty? And is this entirely a measure of honesty or is it also a measure of apathy and willingness to make an effort? You could probably choose any single city, divide it into 16 different neighborhoods, drop twelve wallets in each neighborhood and obtain very similar results. . Way too many potential variables to determine a generalized level of human honesty based on something such as location. What happens when a tourist finds another tourist’s wallet and neither party is from the vicinity of the wallet drop?
      Silly, silly, silly, non-experiment.

    • Adil

      I think the title what is the most honest cities is misleading as the test was so selective. 16 out of hundreds of city absolute misleading!

    • ApocalypseSoon

      how do they know all 12 were always actually found? maybe they left them in very obvious places.

    • india oops

      It never ever possible…. mumbai is 2nd honest city… maybe, mumbai has lucky this time only…. it never ever possible… indian are dishonest people in the one of the world… indian are most cheater in the world… this article really bullshit and reporter should had some connection with indian people…