Most and Least Honest Cities in the World

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Reader’s Digest conducted a $9,600 experiment to figure out which cities of the world are the most — or least — honest.

How? They deliberately lost wallets.

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.

Here’s how the cities ranked, from most honest to least:

  • Helsinki — returned 11 out of 12.
  • Mumbai, India — returned nine.
  • Budapest, Hungary — returned eight.
  • New York City — returned eight.
  • Moscow — returned eight.
  • Amsterdam — returned seven.
  • Berlin — returned six.
  • Ljubljana, Slovenia — returned six.
  • London — returned five.
  • Warsaw, Poland — returned five.
  • Bucharest, Romania — returned four.
  • Rio de Janeiro — returned four.
  • Zurich — returned four.
  • Prague — returned three.
  • Madrid — returned two.
  • Lisbon, Portugal — returned one.

Some wallets were returned, but suspiciously lighter. And in some cases, RD.com reporters literally watched people walk off with the money. In Budapest, “a woman in her early 60s opened the wallet, and then entered a nearby building,” RD.com says. “We never heard from her.” Likewise in Prague, a pair of young teenagers slipped the wallet into a knapsack “and left in a very good mood.”

In Lisbon, the lone returned wallet didn’t even come from locals. The pair who returned it were visitors from Holland, RD.com says.

While RD.com collected demographic information from the people honest enough to turn in wallets, there weren’t any obvious trends. Just under half of them were returned, with no clear predictors based on age, gender or wealth. (But see our story, “Study: Wealthy People More Likely to Lie, Cheat and Take Candy From Kids.”)

Wouldn’t it be fun to see an American-centric version of this test? The only U.S. city on this list is New York, which at least returned 75 percent of the wallets to maintain our good name. Turns out there is one called the National Honesty Index, although the payoff there for being underhanded was far smaller.

“The makers of Honest Tea conducted the survey, which involved setting up an unmanned booth with bottles of their product on display,” Yahoo News says. “Customers were asked to use the honor system and leave $1 for each bottle of tea they took.”

Washington, D.C., was found to be the least honest in that test, Yahoo says, paying just 80 percent of the time. The national average was 92 percent, with the perfect angels in Hawaii and Alabama paying 100 percent of the time.

Are you surprised by either list? Let us know on Facebook.

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  • Robin Stanton

    It would be interesting to do this study with just US cities and see which ones fare better and worse than New York!