Recently Petra and I spent a week of cross-country skiing in Munster, Wallis. On the return home the train was full and with a group of obnoxious young army boys. We were traveling with Mia, two suitcases, two pairs of skis and a backpack. In the backpack I had the iPad, locally made food from Goms, and the key to our house.

Arriving at the Zürich main station was a relief and we exited the train as soon as we could. We soon boarded another train to take us home when suddenly I realized that I had left the backpack in the previous train! I tried to open the door to the train but it was too late. The train departed and with it our hopes of retrieving the backpack. A happy coming home after a great week of skiing and relaxation quickly turned to a somber and sour return.

Petra called the lost and found department of the train station and no backpack had been returned. We went home and talked to a neighbor who we thought had a copy of our key. No key from him. So the prospect was to hire a locksmith and pay about $500 to open the door. We went back to the train station to file a report of the lost bag. On the way, Petra thought of calling one of the architects from the cooperative that designed and built the complex of buildings where we live in. He had helped her in a previous occasion with something else. Luckily he answered his mobile on a Friday and said he could get us a master key but at 11:00 at night after finishing his Swiss basketball game. A curious form of basketball where only hoops made without a rebound count. We filled out the report for the lost backpack and the tired-looking attendant did not promise anything. I was surprised that he could not call the train controller to ask about the backpack. The train where I left it was already on its way south to the Italian-speaking canton of Ticino. The best prospect was to wait until Monday, said the lost and found attendant, and perhaps the backpack might show up.

We had a nice dinner in a restaurant near our house to kill time until we could meet the architect. We got the key from him and went home. It was a relief to walk in to our house without hiring a locksmith.

We learned the lesson that we should not leave the house with only one key even if we are together.

I did not have much hope in getting the backpack returned. If anything I was expecting to get the backpack with the key in it, maybe the food, but not the iPad nor the Swiss Army knife.

On Monday I went to the architect’s office to return the key, accompanied by a bottle of wine, chocolates and a nice card from both of us, thanking him for his help.

On Tuesday, Petra received a call saying the backpack was retrieved. They did not say if the contents were in it. She brought the backpack home and to my surprise everything was still in it! Nothing was stolen! There was nothing missing from it!

This odyssey made me think of a joke and a moment at a cafeteria in Dubai’s airport. I sat down to eat a sandwich and noticed that a sweater was left in a chair next to me. I pointed it out to the young Pakistani waiter and said he should take it and save it in case the person might come back to get it. He replied that he is not allowed to touch the sweater. So the sweater remained there until I left. He is not allowed to touch the sweater because in this Arab nation an immigrant waiter like him would jeopardize his stay if he did. Taking a lost item or a bag left behind by someone in the UAE, Qatar or Saudi Arabia, could be construed as theft and theft is penalized very harshly by the law.
The joke is the story of a young man who goes around the world holding a lamp searching for the truth. He goes with his lamp to the USA searching for the truth and does not find it. He goes to Germany with his lamp searching for the truth and does not find it. In Australia he goes with his lamp searching for the truth and does not find it. In Puerto Rico he goes searching for the truth and his lamp is stolen!

Three different worlds, three different civil standards rendering different results. In Switzerland leaving alone what is not yours comes from a society that recognizes that it is morally wrong to take what is not yours. In Dubai leaving alone what is not yours comes from a society that fears the severity of the punishment to take what is not yours. In Puerto Rico leaving alone what is not yours is a joke.
Enjoy the pictures.



  1. Great storytelling with a happy ending. You guys look great too!

  2. La historia lee como un cuento de veterano autor. Se me ocurre que puedes coleccionar estas historias (espero que no sean otra vez de backpacks perdidos con iPads en su interior) en una antología para publicar. Tu redacción y sentido de “timing” en la historia fue esencial para llegar hasta el final de la misma. Al principio di por sentado que el “backpack” no aparecería por el preámbulo que incluiste sobre el grupo de “obnoxious young army boys”…Mi prejuicio me mantuvo interesado hasta el final y el desenlace no solo me aleccionó sobre “dejar las cosas que no son de uno…me aleccionó además sobre mi prejuicio con los “army boys”.

    Saludos Sostenibles Fernando

  3. I too am glad you got your stuff back. I do think that there is more to it than different sets of civil standards involved in comparing the Swiss’, Arabs’, and Puerto Ricans’ responses to things of value and opportunity of theft or return. I would still watch my valuables as well as possible no matter where i am. I have run into pick-pockets in many parts of Europe and numerous times on trains. I think you were lucky that those who found your stuff were moral and perhaps folks with little need. There are many more factors in comparing the three cultures than generalizations of civil standards derived from your three examples. Take care friend…

  4. Me alegro mucho por el final feliz de la historia. A mí me pasó algo parecido en el DF de Méjico hace poco, con el mismo resultado. Eso pasa en las mejores familias :)

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