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Honesty in a box

August 3, 2010

I like to think that no matter where I go in the world, there is honesty whether it’s inherent in a culture such as Japan or South Korea, or done out of respect for a visitor or a nation’s flag: honesty exists everywhere even if it’s too small to measure.

I loved how Japanese and South Koreans would return wallets untouched or track down someone who misplaced their flash cell phone. I loved how blankets and rugs were left out on unchained cafe chairs through the day even if no-one was watching them. In both these cultures there was a certain level of maturity and respect for other people’s property.
Even in the US — yes the US — the stars and stripes hang from cars and on front door porches untouched. I know flags are temptation for the prankster back in New Zealand, along with letter boxes, planters, practically anything that isn’t chained down can fall victim to drunken pranks particularly in university towns.

In Australia I found honesty came through words, good straight up words. Frank was not just a person’s name.

China had a different definition for honesty but generally was handed out around friends and relatives, definitely not around wide-eyed often green tourists.

Back to New Zealand, despite the urges for people to climb flagpoles and run off with lift-able objects, there has been a place where honesty has always existed. In a box, in the countryside — the honesty box.

via Doodlebugs (travelpod)

Throughout the summer and autumn months, honesty boxes appear on the roadside selling fresh produce like honey, eggs, fruit and vegetables. Generally done by orchardists and farmers the system relies on the honesty of customers who want to buy bulk produce at a good price. In the past you would put your money in one tin and take your change out of another tin. Modern day honesty has redefined how transactions are done these days, honesty is still required but don’t expect change if you need it.

Historically the honesty box was popular in England, Australia and New Zealand. A way of collecting money in unattended parking lots and fruit stalls and with newspapers. The honesty box concept typifies hows things once were in New Zealand heartland communities: trust, neighbourliness and respect were equally valued and applied.

I don’t think I’ve come across this kind of honesty system in my travels around the States, Asia or Central America and Europe. If you have seen something similar please let me know.

Caffeinated Traveller

PS. I’ll be away for the week, minus the laptop (!!!!) Enjoy your week everyone.

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  1. August 3, 2010 7:08 pm

    I am compiling a web site full of cafes that serve great coffee (, if you come across any on your travels, it would be great if you could add them to the web site.

    Many Thanks, enjoy your travels!


  2. August 4, 2010 6:37 am

    Wow, Cate. Thanks for this post! It’s nice to know that there are still a lot of goodness in people. It reminded me so much of the honesty store in Batanes, Philippines. It’s a convenient store that looks like a hut!

    • August 4, 2010 3:06 pm

      You are very welcome Angela and thanks for stopping by and letting me know about the store you found in Batanes. Would love to see how this one is set up.

  3. August 4, 2010 10:22 pm

    I think that honesty boxes aren’t so common not so much because people aren’t so honest but because more people are starving and struggling economically. I have seen vestiges of the concept, just the same. Just las weekend, I was at my local farmer’s market buying dried cranberries from my favorite vendor and asked him if he realized that he had a pile of quarters on the table near the bags of fruit. He said yes, they were there for people who needed change and did I need any? I can think of lots of ways that the pile could have disappeared but it didn’t.

    • August 9, 2010 1:31 pm

      Honesty works both ways which probably helps keep the concept going. I would think that this type of trade would work better when the economy is weak as it gives the grower direct access to the customer taking out the middleman. Perhaps it works well for small time producers.

  4. August 7, 2010 12:24 pm

    I haven’t seen something like this, although being back in Turkey I’m realizing the differences in honesty here. For example at the local bus station, the clerks offer to watch my bags so I don’t have to carry them while running to grab a bite – it’s very common here and theft would be virtually unheard of. Also, in most local stores it’s OK to grab something and leave the money at the counter if you’re from the neighborhood. To ask someone if they’ve paid consequently is extremely rude here, as are many subjects involving money.

    • August 9, 2010 1:28 pm

      The cultural nuances behind honesty is interesting. I think one of best ways to learn this (or discover it) is through travel or expatriating to a place. Turkey must be abundant in these situations, and difficult to fathom out as well.

  5. August 7, 2010 3:29 pm

    I’ve seen honesty boxes here in California, both for fruit and also, remarkably, for expensive homemade jam.

    I saw a study recently that said Australians were the most likely of any nationality to return a wallet untouched to its owner. I had that happen a few times in my younger days after losing wallets on trains and in pubs.

    • August 9, 2010 1:25 pm

      I think there are pockets of honesty boxes around the world depending on the community surrounding them. I just came upon one in Tampa selling honey and fresh milk.

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