The Lost Wallet Experiment

LostWalletToday is Saturday, September 28, 2013.

A Facebook friend shared a story from the International Business Times, taken originally from a report in Reader’s Digest about a social experiment that was done in 16 cities, 13 of them in Europe, one in the United States (New York City), one in Brazil (Rio de Janeiro), and one in India (Mumbai). The European cities included London, U.K., Helsinki, Finland, Moscow Russia, Warsaw, Poland, Budapest, Hungary, Prague, Czech Republic, Lisbon, Portugal, Madrid, Spain, Amsterdam, Netherlands, Zurich, Switzerland, Bucharest, Romania, Berlin, Germany, and Liublana, Slovenia.

wallet-experimentIn the experiment, twelve wallets were “lost” in each of the 16 cities.  That’s a total of 192 wallets.  Each wallet contained about $50 in the local currency, plus a name, phone number, family photo (and I’m assuming here that the family looked like a typical local family), some coupons, and business cards.

The info-graphic below shows how many out of 12 wallets “lost” were returned in each city.  In cities marked in red, 0-4 wallets were returned.  In cities marked in gold, 5-8 wallets were returned.  In cities marked in green – and there were only two – 9-12 wallets were returned.  In Mumbai, 9 were returned, and in Helsinki, 11 were returned.  In New York City, 8 out of 12 were returned, which is not bad for a city that is supposed to be crime-ridden. The worst city was Lisbon, with only one walled returned – by out-of-town visitors!  Please click on the graphic to view the whole thing clearly.

Helsinki was held up as the “most honest city,” and I certainly think their citizens should be congratulated for being so honest, but I do think the experiment should have been a bit broader.  No cities in Australia were included, and cities in  Africa and Asia, apart from Mumbai, were noticeably absent from the study.  The study should have been done in more cities in South and North America, as well.  As it was, however, the study involved quite a bit of financial risk, in that approximately $600 was risked in each of the 16 cities for a total of $9,600.  That’s a lot of cash. A total of 102 wallets were lost, which would represent a loss of $5,100, with only $4,500 recovered.


It may be true that parents in other countries teach their kids to bring lost items and cash to the police, but remember that the laws in some countries state that if the owner of the found item is not located, then the finder gets to keep the item or the cash.  In some countries, other rules apply, as well, as I found out when I left my handbag in a taxi while in Osaka, Japan.

The handbag contained my Alien Registration Card, which is supposed to be carried on one’s person at all times in Japan.  It looks like a mini-passport, with a photograph of you, your address in your country of origin, your birthdate, date of entry into Japan, and – something that all long-time foreign residents learned to hate – your fingerprints. The “AR Card” is supposed to be surrendered when you leave, but for some reason I still have mine.

The handbag also contained somewhere between ¥3000-4000. (yen)  Back in those days, when the exchange rate was still arbitrarily fixed at a rate of about 360 yen to one dollar, a rate that was quite favorable to the U.S. dollar.  That works out to only about $10-11.   Not much.  The cash was negligible, but the AR Card was priceless, and I had to get it back, or possibly be arrested for losing it.

As soon as we got home, my (then) husband called the police to report the missing item, and he was told that it had already been found and returned to the Osaka central police station.  We lived in the “suburb” of Sakai at the time. This meant I had to take the train into town, at least an hour commute.  I went in the next day and they actually showed me my handbag – but refused to give it to me!

Why? you ask.  Well, because there was a rule that said the finder is supposed to get 10% of the cash value of the item that he finds.  The police can decide how to enforce this, but for me, they suggested that since ten percent of the money in my bag was negligible, I should send a “finder’s gift” to the taxi driver.  Naturally, they had the man’s name and number all written down for me.  They made another suggestion – why not buy him a nice bottle of whisky?  That is considered an acceptable gift in Japan, and everybody seems to assume that everybody else drinks.  Whatever.  The problem was that an acceptable amount of whiskey (Face must be saved, after all.) would cost at least ¥10,000.  Well, we sent the man the whiskey, which took a couple of days, then I went back to get the purse.  Unfortunately, the taxi driver had not yet reported my gift to the police, so they still wouldn’t let me have my handbag back.  I was beginning to get really worried about being without my AR Card, as I could have been jailed for the crime of not carrying it, and the police knew that it was in my handbag.  I was given the phone number of the taxi driver and told to ask him (politely) to go to the central police station to verify with them that he had received my finder’s gift.  That took a couple more days.  It turned out that the taxi driver also lived in the suburbs, and had only picked us up while he was driving around in the center of downtown Osaka because he’d had a fare into downtown.  He was actually on his way back to the suburbs when he picked us up

I did finally get my handbag back, and I learned that people return things in Japan with the expectation of some gain at some point.  It works slightly differently – and better, in my opinion – on the trains in Japan.  In Japan, salaries are paid in a cash envelope, and I had just been paid one Friday afternoon when I lived in Tokyo.  (This was after my divorce.)  I had a whole month’s salary in there, and by that time, the exchange rate was only about ¥200 to the dollar.  My salary at the time was around ¥300,000 per month, so around $1500.  That’s a lot of cash to be carrying around.  I wanted to deposit it in the bank, but banks actually keep “banker’s hours” in Japan, or at least they did then.  Also, I had a party to attend, so I just grabbed the cash envelope and went to the party on the train.  As I left the party, I realized that I had stupidly left the envelope on the shelf above the seats.  It had been collected at the end of the line by the conductor and entered into their “lost and found” book.  Fortunately, the end of the line was only one station away from where I had got off for the party.  I anxiously inquired about the envelope and the employee called the office at the terminal station.  They told him that not only had they found it, but that an employee would bring it to me, if I would only wait a few minutes.  Sure enough, 20 minutes later, I had the cash back.  All of it.  And they did not ask me to pay 10% of the total, although I offered to pay the finder.   At one point, a neighbor of mine who was a railroad employee told me that they regularly disregarded the “10% rule” because so many things were lost every day.  He told me that when they found valuable jewelry, such as a diamond ring, they write down “rock” on the register so the police don’t get on them about forcing an owner to pay a fortune to the finder.   A very interesting experience, indeed.  🙂


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