Column

Odd and Fun Laws Worldwide

In India, a woman may marry a goat. In Canada, it’s illegal to board a plane while it’s in flight. In Sweden, it’s illegal to buy sex, but okay to sell it. In France, it’s illegal to name a pig Napoleon. Dueling is legal in Uruguay – provided both parties are registered blood donors. Pillows are considered “passive” weapons under German law. Several countries have laws against kissing in public. Some laws make you laugh out loud, some make you shake your head in wonder, and some are just puzzlers. Could something have been lost in translation? Were these really laws? If so, are they still in force? Why were they enacted?

Simon Fodden’s post about New York City’s “Chocolate Library” ban got me thinking about similar laws and regulations in foreign countries. Finding fun, “silly”, or odd foreign laws is hard. These laws often come to light in newspaper stories, and sometimes in radio broadcasts and podcasts. Sometimes legislatures bring the laws to light when they make systematic efforts to root out outdated, antiquated laws (“Corrections Day”, “Fix-It Day”, “Common Sense Day”).

What are the typical subjects of these laws? Animals, marriage, attire (or lack thereof), sex, drinking, smoking, the body? And are older laws more likely to be funny or unusual than newer ones? Are countries with unique geography, history, culture, religion more likely to have these types of laws? I found no good way to predict. 

Who would have thought of the opera as harmful? Well, for seven years (from 2001 to 2008), Turkmenistan banned Turkmen from attending the opera and circus. The legislature considered these forms of entertainment suitable only for foreigners and ethnic Russians (Global Legal Monitor).

Typical sources for funny foreign laws usually do not include citations, so verifying them is difficult. It’s LOL, but was it really law? The sources usually give insufficient information – no specific jurisdiction (national/federal, state/province, city), type of legislation, date. The sources rarely say if the legislation is still in force. Some of the sources themselves look pretty wacky or vanity-published. It’s all fun and games…until you have to go hunt down the actual law.

Below are some resources for identifying funny, silly, stupid, crazy, strange, and other unusual laws around the world. A few include legal citations. Don’t forget to look at the Global Legal Monitor, JURISTNews, and general news sources. Forget that the laws listed are mostly not sourced, and enjoy! By the way, I did not verify any of these alleged laws.

Nathan Belofsky, The Book of Strange and Curious Legal Oddities: Pizza Police, Illicit Fishbowls, and Other Anomalies That Make Us All Unsuspecting Criminals ( Perigee/Penguin Group, 2010) (gives citations for some of the laws)

Fenton S. Bresler & Nicola Jennings, Beastly Law (David & Charles, 1986) (A Graham Tarrant Book)

Fuller Buhl, Loony Sex Laws Throughout the World: An Outlandish Collection of Rib Tickling Ordinances, Statutes and Decrees of Interest to All Law Abiding Citizens (Booksurge Llc/CreateSpace, 2010)

Ross Clark, How to Label a Goat: The Silly Rules and Regulations That Are Strangling Britain (Harriman House, 2006)

Lance S. Davidson, Ludicrous Laws & Mindless Misdemeanors: The Silliest Lawsuits and Unruliest Rulings of All Times (John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 1998) (includes citations)

  • In Arizona, first cousins cannot marry…unless they are over sixty-five. But they still may have children (p. 107)

Dumb, Crazy or Stupid Laws Around the World (Duhaime: Bringing Legal Information to the World; includes citations)(see their “Law Fun” site generally for crazy English laws)

Dumb Laws (occasionally supplies references, usually to books about strange laws; website mentioned in ABA Journal, March 1999, at 74)

  • It is illegal to wear hot pink pants after midday Sunday in Australia

Tom Ginsburg, “Constitutional Oddities” (University of Chicago Law School, August 13, 2010 lecture on comparative constitutions)

  • The Swedish constitution protects the right of reindeer-herding
  • Many constitutions protect the right to leisure 
  • 15% of the Prussian Constitution of 1871 concerns the telegraph system
  • Under the Chilean Constitution of 1822, the chief executive cannot get married or become a godfather without the consent of Congress

“Hunting For Silly Statutes and Loony Laws,” San Antonio Express-News, July 20,1997, at A19

Dick Hyman, The Columbus Chicken Statute and More Bonehead Legislation (Stephen Greene Press, 1985) (has a section on “Strange, Zany, and Archaic Laws of Countries Around the World” at pages 85-117, but no citations)

  • A pig may travel on English railroads if accompanied by a passenger and a ticket (p.89)
  • In Bermuda, public profanity is prohibited (p.99)
  • Mexico prohibits under-balcony serenades of more than one hour (p.109)
  • Section 122 of New Zealand’s Crime Act of 1908 made it illegal to write a letter to a pirate (p.110)

Jeff Koon & Andy Powell. You May Not Tie an Alligator to a Fire Hydrant: 101 Real Dumb Laws (The Free Press, 2002) (includes citations)

  • In Schaumburg, Illinois, it is illegal to fly a kite (p.107)

And from the Simon & Schuster, 2006 ed.:

  • In England, it is illegal for a lady to eat chocolates on a public conveyance
  • In France, no pig may be addressed as Napoleon by its owner (note that there is a website which contends that France never enacted any such law)
  • In Scotland, it is illegal to be drunk in possession of a cow
  • In Thailand, it is illegal to leave your house if you are not wearing underwear

Legal Grounds (FindLaw Legal Humor Blog)

Legal Humour News (“odd or amusing ‘law-related’ news stories” by Canada-based Daniel & Marcel Strigberger)

Sheryl Lindsell-Roberts, Wacky Laws, Weird Decisions & Strange Statutes (Main Street, 2004)

  • In Canada, it is illegal to board a plane while it is in flight (p.23)
  • In Kentucky, “[n]o female shall appear in a bathing suit on any highway…unless she is escorted by at least two officers or unless she be armed with a club” (p.34)

Kathi Linz & Tony Griego, Chickens May Not Cross the Road and Other Crazy (but True) Laws (Houghton Mifflin, 2002)

Nigel Napier-Andrews, This Is the Law?: A Selection of Silly Laws from Around the World (Doubleday, 1976)

Joanne O’Sullivan, Book of Legal Stuff: Wacky Laws, Weird Decisions, & Strange Statutes  (Imagine Pub. Inc, 2010)

Odd Animal Laws, Odd Culture (AnimalBlawg, December 13, 2010)(includes some citations and links to sources)

  • In India, it is illegal to maim or kill an animal worth more than 10 Rupees (22 cents)
  • It is illegal to give alcohol to a moose in Fairbanks, Alaska (or keep alligators in bathtubs)

Robert Wayne Pelton, Loony Laws That You Never Knew You Were Breaking (Walker & Co., 1990)(has chapter on “Laughable Laws in Foreign Places” at pages 109-119; detailed descriptions, but no citations)

Robert Wayne Pelton, Loony Sex Laws: That You Never Knew You Were Breaking (Walker & Co., 1992) (covers laws worldwide)

  • In Peru, it is illegal for unmarried young men to have female alpacas live in their homes or apartments (p.20)

Barbara Seuling, It Is Illegal to Quack Like a Duck & Other Freaky Laws (Lodestar Books, 1988)(no citations)

  • Claudius II banned marriage – he claimed that married men made poor soldiers (p.16)
  • In 19th century England, the penalty for committing suicide was death (p.40)

Stupid Laws & Dumb State Laws: Outside the U.S. (lawsome.net)

Weird News (CNEWS)

Onika K. Williams, “The Suppression of a Saggin’ Expression: Exploring the “Saggy Pants” Style within a First Amendment Context,” 85 Ind. L.J. 1169 (2010) (one of several articles on laws against sagging/saggy/droopy pants; see e.g. Angelica M. Sinopole’s “No Saggy Pants” (2008))

“In June 2008, a film crew from a Japanese television program, World Travelog, ventured to Opa-Locka, Florida, to shoot footage regarding the city’s ordinance banning saggy pants. The footage was for a segment on unusual laws in foreign countries…”

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Comments

  1. Surely some Slawians can provide a source for the sole Canadian example in Lyo’s sterling list, re prohibiting boarding a plane while it is in flight. (I could understand a ban on trying to board a plane in motion, but with scenes like action-movie boardings while the plane is taxiing along the runway rather than boarding from the air. Did anyone have in mind a wingtip-to-wingtip walk? Not likely.)