The honest acts of a French hiker and Spanish shop owner are rare, according to results from a new experiment.
You cross the street and find $50 on the ground. No one is in sight. Do you go to the nearest shop or police station? Or do you pocket it?
That's the setup laid out by an international magazine this week in creating a ranking of "the most honest cities."
But a handful of unplanned scenarios around the globe this fall shows honesty and good citizenry when faced with much higher stakes.
Take the French mountain climber who was high in the Alps, on a glacier on Mont Blanc, when he came across a metal box labeled “Made in India.” Inside: hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of sapphires, emeralds, and rubies. The jewels are believed to be debris from an Air India flight that crashed in 1966.
The climber decided not to pocket the jewels. “This was an honest young man who very quickly realized that they belonged to someone who died on the glacier,” said local officer Sylvain Merly, according to The Times of the UK.
The mountaineer asked to remain anonymous. But a good samaritan from Spain gives us some insight into such scrupulous behavior: he also chose the honest route after fortune – millions of dollars – crossed his path.
Manuel Reija Gonzalez was cleaning up his lottery store in La Coruña in northern Spain when he found an old lottery ticket. He ran it through the system and found it was the unclaimed winner of $6.3 million. He called the authorities.
"Because here was somebody who had a problem forgetting his ticket and I put myself in his shoes, and it's the sort of thing I could have done. I thought the best thing to do was just to return the ticket," he told the BBC World Service program Newsday.
The honesty of the French hiker and Mr. Reija Gonzalez are apparently a minority, albeit a slight one, according to a new study out this week. An experiment carried out by “Reader's Digest” showed that 53 percent of people who found “lost” wallets did not turn them in (47 percent did).
The international magazine had their reporters drop 192 wallets, each holding $50, on sidewalks and shopping centers in 16 cities. (In this case, doing the right thing was made easier – the wallets contained a contact number.)
In their ranking, Helsinki came out the most honest, with 11 of 12 wallets returned. Lasse Luomakoski, a businessman in Finland who returned a wallet, said on Radio Free Europe: "Finns are naturally honest. We are a small, quiet, closely knit community. We have little corruption, and we don't even run red lights."
Lisbon ranked last, with results the inverse of Helsinki: one of 12 wallets were turned in. (And that was by two Dutch tourists.)
Here is the full ranking, which includes cities across Europe and the likes of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil; New York; and Mumbai, India.
La Coruña was not one of the cities tested by "Reader's Digest," but it's safe to assume Reija Gonzalez probably would have passed the test. And happily, he might be rewarded for his honest choices – if the owner of the lottery ticket is never found, the money goes to him.
The climber in the Alps will likely be rewarded, too. The 1966 crash, which killed 117 people after pilots miscalculated the position of Mont Blanc, happened a long time ago.
According to The Times: “The authorities are trying to trace the possible owner of the jewels. If they are unsuccessful, French law will entitle the climber to half of them."