budapest parliament

Reader’s Digest set out to determine where the most honest city is in the world. To find the answer, they conducted a worldwide experiment with strategically placed ‘lost’ wallets to test people’s reactions.

The experiment was to see how many of the 192 wallets scattered at various points in the selected 16 cities around the world would be returned. Each wallet contained $50 worth of local currency, coupons, family photos, business cards and, most importantly, a name and a phone number. A total of 12 wallets were left in each city but how many got returned varies a lot from city to city.

Top 5 most honest cities

1. Helsinki, Finland

honest city, finland, capital
Helsinki, Finland

Helsinki won the experiment, with 11 wallets out of the 12 returned. One of the people who found a wallet claimed that, because Finland is such a small country, it is important for the people to be honest, so that they can trust each other. They also said that:

“We have little corruption and we don’t even run red lights.”

Others explained their kindness by pointing out what an essential trait honesty is, a sort of key to getting along in life.

2. Mumbai, India

honest cities, mumbai, india
Mumbai, India

Mumbai came in 2nd place, with 9 out of the 12 wallets returned. There, some people claimed the reason they returned the wallets was their conscience or setting a good example. A wallet contains so many important documents that replacing them would be a slow and lengthy process, on top of the lost money. A mother of two said that

“I teach my children to be honest, just like my parents taught me.”

3. Budapest, Hungary

honest cities
Budapest, Hungary; Photo: Krisztián Bódis,

Hungary came 3rd in the experiment, as Hungarians returned 8 out of 12 wallets. One girl claimed she returned the wallet because of a personal memory of her. She was with her father once when they found a lost wallet on the side of the road.

“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!”

So, one of the main reasons for returning the wallets was the importance of the documents here as well.

3. New York City, USA

honest cities, USA
New York City, USA

Interestingly, New York City finished along with Hungary, with an equal number of 8 returned wallets. This may be surprising, however, as one of the finders said,

“Everyone says New Yorkers are unfriendly but they’re really quite nice people”

Another person explained that it was the family photos in the wallet that made her want to return the wallet – after all, a father of two must need it. Someone else pointed out that,

“It’s so easy to be cynical. But 9/11 especially instilled companionship in everyone.”

5. Moscow, Russia

honest cities
Moscow, Russia

The 5th place was won by Moscow, with 7 returned wallets. For the Russian finders, one of the prime motivation was a desire to do good, to be a good example and to follow parents’ teachings. An Emergency Situations officer who handed back the wallet said that “I am an officer and an officer’s ethical code binds me.”, while another person said that

“I am convinced that people should help one another, and if I can make someone a little happier, I will.”

Top 5 least honest cities

1. Lisbon, Portugal

honest cities
Lisbon, Portugal

The experiment revealed that Lisbon is the city with the least honest people. Only 1 of the wallets was returned. A couple in their 60s returned it.

However, it turned out that they actually were not from Lisbon at all; they were Dutch tourists.

The rest of the wallets disappeared, not even the photos or documents were left behind. However, we do not know whether those people were from Lisbon, either.

2. Madrid, Spain

honest cities
Madrid, Spain

In Madrid, only 2 of the wallets were returned. One of them by two 22-year-old girls who said, “We only wanted to give it back.” One of the girls emphasised that

“I couldn’t keep a purse that wasn’t mine.”

Obviously, 10 other people did not have such thoughts.

3. Prague, Czech Republic

honest cities
Prague, Czech Republic

Prague is in the top 3 least honest cities. Only 3 wallets were returned. One wallet was found by teenagers who, after finding the wallet, got in a very good mood but did not return it, in the end. They just left it in a bag. There is hope, however, and one of the finders remains positive, saying

“It’s something you simply should do naturally.”

4. Zurich, Switzerland

honest cities
Zurich, Switzerland

Zurich came in as the 4th least honest city, with 4 wallets returned. For instance, people behind the experiment saw a tram driver taking the wallet, even though he works for the same company that is responsible for the city’s lost and found office. Nevertheless, a woman who returned a wallet said that

“I know what it’s like to lose something. The ‘not knowing’ afterwards is terrible. That’s why I responded as fast as I could.”

And she really did do her best, calling the number and sending messages on various platforms when her call was unanswered.

5. Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

honest cities
Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

Rio de Janeiro ended up being the 5th least honest city in the experiment. 4 out of 12 wallets were returned, though some of them without the money. However, a 73-year-old grandmother explained that a past incident prompted her to return the wallet she found.

“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 behaviour was unacceptable.”

She was with her granddaughter, too, so maybe setting a good example was also among her motives.


All in all, 90 wallets were returned out of 192. That is a mere 47%. However, it seems like no generalisations can be made as to the age, gender or wealth of those who chose not to return the wallets. Young and old, male and female, rich and poor – all could decide either way. However, common reasons for returning were memories of past experiences, wanting to do good in the world or simply being unable to take something that belongs to someone else. The conclusion thus is that both honest and dishonest people live everywhere.

For more news, check out this article about Hungary’s place on the international obesity list.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.