In a highly unscientific but nonetheless telling test of global honesty, Readers Digest armed its journalists with 192 wallets recently and dispatched them to 16 cities in Europe, Asia and the Americas. The plan: hide the wallets like Easter eggs around each city and wait patiently to see how many return.
More specifically, the “Candid Camera”-like social experiment involved the journalists “dropping” 12 wallets per city in parks, shopping malls or busy sidewalks. Each contained a cell phone number, family photo, coupons, business cards and the equivalent of about $50 in the local currency. Amid an apparent global outbreak of sticky fingers, however, only 47 percent returned.
Somehow Raimo Moysa, editor-in-chief of Reader’s Digest International Magazines, took this as a positive sign. “It is truly inspiring to see that there are so many honest people in the world,” he said of the findings. “And most of all, that honesty is valued among young and old, men and women, poor and rich in very different cultures.”
By that, he means to say that Readers Digest found no clear evidence that age, gender or wealth had anything to do with honesty. For instance, the study concluded (without quite putting it in these words) that anyone planning to lose his or her wallet abroad should consider doing so in one of two wholly dissimilar cities: Helsinki or Mumbai.
“Finns are naturally honest, it’s typical for us. We are a small, quiet, closely-knit community. We have little corruption and we don’t even run red lights,” 27-year-old business student Lasse Luomakoski, who found a dropped wallet in a pedestrian street in downtown Helsinki, noted in the report.
Indian stamp vendor and mother of two Vaishali Mhaskar, who returned a wallet that was left in Mumbai’s General Post Office, agreed. “I teach my children to be honest, just like my parents taught me.”
Readers Digest said every wallet told a different story, “whether of outright theft, a struggle with temptation or a refreshing affirmation of honesty.” Beyond Helsinki and Mumbai, other cities whose citizens abstained from the “finders keepers, losers weepers” rule included (in descending order) New York, Budapest, Moscow and Amsterdam. Scroll through the slideshow above for a look at the cities that “struggled with temptation” (including one whose citizens failed to return 11 out of 12 wallets).