One day I was sitting on the bus, absorbed in a podcast as usual. I barely even noticed that the bus had stopped to let some people off. Then it started rolling again. Then from behind me a guy started yelling, “Hey! Wait! Stop!” I thought maybe he’d fallen asleep and almost missed his stop, or had just been so absorbed in something he was listening to he forgot where he wanted to get off. Then he ran to the front of the bus holding a small purse. The driver let him out and the guy yelled, “Hey ma’am!” He ran to a woman walking up the sidewalk and handed her the purse, then ran back to the bus and got back on.
“She does that all the time,” said the driver. “Most of the time I just keep it up here and give it to her when she gets back on.”
I laughed at how bus drivers get to know certain people, and also wondered how many purses that woman lost and if she’d memorized all her credit card numbers, and wondered if I’d chase someone down the street to return a purse, then went back to listening to my podcast.
I was reminded of that incident when I heard about a scientific study to find out whether people around the world would return a lost wallet if they found one. And the good news is they will. Some researchers were surprised by that, and even more surprising to them was that the larger the amount of money in the wallet–some wallets had no money, some had about $13 in local currency, and others had about $100–the more likely people were to return it with the money in it.
Is that really surprising, though? The fake wallets were made to look like they belonged to tourists, and a lot of us who’ve traveled can relate to the experience of losing something so vital as a wallet and money in a strange place. And a lot of locals want tourists to leave with a good impression of a place. What does it say about us though that anyone finds the results surprising? People have a tendency to live up to expectations. For instance most people expect me to be completely oblivious.