The Curious Case of the Missing Wallet

Cell phones in Europe have a little security setting that I really am not fond of. They require a pin code each time you power up, and since I am highly forgetful and automatically misplace everything important, my phone is often out of commission.

In the US, I can’t imagine not having my phone on me at all times, but here I will leave it turned off for four or five days at a time, all without realizing it. The only three people entities that routinely call/message me are:

  1. My American colleague Sherri, but since we share an office and an apartment and a social circle, its rarely a problem
  2. My former boss who incessantly, almost obsessively wants to feed me
  3. My network provider Turkcell who sends along savings packages for their Gnctrkcll (if it looks like an intimidating word, its hip turk lingo for Genç Turkcell meaning Young Turkcell) that I don’t understand.

The other day, though, I needed my phone and when I found it, the thing was dead. I went to power it up, but of course, that required the pin code. I took to keeping my pin code in my wallet, since it seems like a safe place for important things. I went hunting for it (a nearly daily activity) but was unable to figure out where I had put it.

I sat there on the couch, running through the day, thinking about the last time I had definitely used my wallet. It was that evening when I bought wine for a friend’s party. I had put it down while I packed my groceries and, well, I thought I had picked it up, but maybe not?

It was too late to go back to the market that night, but I figured, meh tomorrow I’ll go. I have actually only lost my wallet twice, which may sound like a lot, but let me reiterate how comically scatterbrained I am. The first time I was 17 and it fell out of my bag while I was in a restaurant, and the second was in college, I didn’t care so much about my wallet as I did my car keys, which I needed to drive five friends to a John Mayer concert that night.

I wasn’t worried at all about finding my wallet, really. I figured it would work out. Which, makes me think of the 30 Rock skit with Kenneth:

I’d like to think that I’m not as naive as Kenneth, since in NYC I would be a basket case if I had lost my wallet, but there’s something about Turks and Turkey that made me far less worried:

  • My net worth is not enough that I fear someone stealing my credit cards.
  • My bank freezes the card every time I use it, even though I continually reassure them that I live in Turkey, I’m sure no crazy Turk could buy much of anything before Bank of America put the kibosh on their spending spree.
  • My name is absolutely not Turkish, at all. There is no way someone could pass as me.
  • But, perhaps most importantly: Turks are outrageously honest when it comes to money.

For example, the second time I came to Turkey, I took a city bus alone to meet up with my friend who was taking classes during the morning. The bus was so packed that people couldn’t enter from the front, but rather stepped on in the middle and at the back. The driver seemed highly unfazed by this. Why? Because people pass forward their money.

Let me repeat that: People pass forward their money. To strangers. Who return their change.

If ever a time to ask, Where the hell am I, this is one.

So, there I was, wedged next to the driver, which meant I was the recipient of the cash, some people were passing forward 20 million TL notes (sounds like a ton, it was roughly $17 at the time.) I had no trouble passing money back to its owner, but something in me would never, ever trust a stranger with $16.25 in change.

Since 2008, the system has been updated, but the system is still, at its core, the same. First, the government eliminated six zeroes off the end of the lira, reducing the price of a beer from five million TL to five. Second, people now have a little fob that they can add credit to, so most commuters pay digitally for their public transportation. This means that while some pass forward cash, others pass forward their house/car/work keys that are all attached to their fob, to strangers.

Wha whaa?

So, I went to the market the next morning, when I walked in, the cashier immediately told me she had my wallet. She handed it back to me, and as I walked through the store, picking up a few things, I discreetly checked the contents. Yup, it was all there, including the cash. As I went through the checkout line, I put my wallet down as I packed the groceries into my bag. The cashier picked up the wallet, and with a smirk on her face, she handed it to me, saying, “Don’t forget this.”