Our host reimbursed us for a theft in his house

My father is furious that my boyfriend accepted money when we were guests in Africa.

Published January 23, 2006 11:22AM (EST)

Dear Cary,

I was recently traveling in Africa with my serious boyfriend of eight months and my family. While we were staying at the house of some well-off family friends, $1,000 was stolen out of my boyfriend's wallet, which was on the floor of the room we were staying in. Given the danger of carrying cash on the street, he purposely left it in the house assuming it would be safe. My parents' immediate reaction was that my boyfriend was responsible for his own belongings, even though it also seemed likely that our hosts' servants (three maids) could possibly be to blame, given that they were the only ones in the house and the house is quite secure (not a lot of foot traffic nearby).

My boyfriend is a freelance photographer and scrapes to get by so the loss was pretty serious and traumatic for him. A week after the theft, our host offered to repay the money (my parents were on safari during this time and so were not around for the negotiation). My boyfriend accepted the money. We were unclear as to whether our host was paying it out of his own pocket at first (he was somewhat mysterious about it) but ultimately we learned that yes, he had.

My boyfriend and I left the country, and when my parents returned and learned that my boyfriend had accepted the money, they were mortified. My father, for whom $1,000 is fairly disposable, repaid the money to his friend, feeling that his friend was not responsible and that his friend had already been generous enough to us.

Now my parents expect my boyfriend to repay the money to my dad. My boyfriend doesn't feel that he did anything wrong and does not want to (and at the moment cannot) pay it back. I stand by my boyfriend's decision to take the money, but I know that if he doesn't repay my father, or offer to down the line, my parents will judge him as impolite, undiplomatic and selfish (if they haven't already). Of course I want them to approve of him, as we may be together forever.

Should my boyfriend repay my father?

Money Troubled

Dear Money Troubled,

Yes, your boyfriend should repay your father. He should also send his host a little gift of some sort, thanking him for his generosity and kindness.

If he doesn't have the money now, he should find a way to get it.

I don't think he should have taken the money from the host in the first place. I suppose it was his obligation to report the loss, as others in the household might also be vulnerable. And it was understandable that the host would offer to reimburse him. But when the host offered to repay it, he should have refused. Instead, on his own, he should have endeavored to make whatever communications were necessary to get the money he needed to complete the journey without being a burden on others.

What he's done makes everyone look bad -- you, him and your father. I'm not surprised that your father is demanding he be paid back. It's not just the money -- it's the way your boyfriend handled it. Your father is probably angry and has doubts about your boyfriend's maturity.

Why is this not just a trifling matter? Because it is not really about money. It is about having a high regard for others, out of which we circumspectly and assiduously avoid being a burden, particularly on our hosts. We make our presence in the world instead a light and welcome phenomenon, thusly hoping to deserve at least a little of our profound good fortune.

And we always try to learn from our mistakes in foreign lands.

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