Here are 20 Weird Laws around the World and Why They Were Passed
Seasoned travelers are used to experiencing a certain level of culture shock when they arrive at a new destination.
They might experience unfamiliar traffic patterns, strange food and cultural customs that baffle them at first. However, many of these customs make sense once you understand the history and values of a region.
The same can be said for many of a country’s laws. They might seem ridiculous at first, but there are specific intentions behind them.
Goldfish Quotas, Ketchup Bans and 18 of the Craziest Laws in the World
Germany: You Can’t Play the Piano at Midnight
The team at Learn Out Live joked that Germany is “the country of a million laws” and debunked legal myths about using pillows as a weapon and singing the national anthem. One law that rings true, however, is the one that forbids the playing of musical instruments after certain hours.
Renters are only allowed to practice their instruments from 8:00 to 12:00 and from 14:00 to 20:00 to be respectful to their neighbors. They also have time restrictions for various instruments to prevent artists from playing marathon symphonies the rest of the neighborhood never asked for.
Spain: Don’t Walk Shirtless in Majorca’s City Center
Not all weird laws come from a bygone era. Alex Dunham at The Local Spain broke the news in May 2014 that the island of Majorca would fine people (namely tourists) 600 EUR for walking around without a shirt on. The island is a renowned beach destination, but officials are hoping to clean up its image by discouraging tourists from treating it like a beach party. Uncovered swimwear can also be fined.
England: It is Illegal to Kill or Eat Any Mute Swans
The Queen owns all of the Mute Swans of England, and only she is allowed to kill and eat one. This goes all the way back to Medieval times, when swans were considered a delicacy that the wealthy desperately wanted on their dinner tables. While this might seem antiquated, the law actually has practical purposes today.
“The Mute Swan is officially a protected species and therefore nobody is legally allowed to kill them for the purpose of eating them,” the team at Britain Explorer writes. “Mute swans are protected under the wildlife and countryside act of 1981. Anyone found guilty of killing them faces a £5,000 fine or up to six months in prison.”
France: Ketchup is Banned in School Cafeterias
In 2011, Christopher Hebert, the president of the national association of municipal catering managers, banned ketchup from school cafeterias.
“The weird thing about this rule is that it was not put into place for health reasons — otherwise mayo might have been taken off the menu as well,” Annie André writes at How to Live in France. “But because Monsieur Hebert thinks that every spoonful of ketchup is like eating the ‘incarnation of Americanism.’”
In order to preserve the French culture, ketchup is only allowed on french fries (ironically enough), which are only allowed to be served once per week.
Italy: It Is Illegal to Die in Certain Cities
It is illegal to die in at least two cities in Italy, and also several other cities around the world. In part, this has to do with depopulation and aging towns, but also addresses local health crises. In the case of Sellia, Italy, residents who fail to take preventative death measures by getting an annual health check-up will be fined 10 EUR per year.
“The old ‘ban on death’ manoeuvre, in short, is often the local government equivalent of a naked calendar — a good-natured way of driving attention to their cause,” Leo Benedictus writes at The Guardian. “In Sellia, 100 people signed up for their health checks in the flurry of publicity that followed the prohibition of dying and, who knows, perhaps one or two did have their lives saved as a result.”
Switzerland: It Is Illegal to Own Only One Goldfish
Switzerland has some of the most thorough and dedicated animal cruelty laws in the world. While people are welcome to own multiple goldfish, owning just one is considered inhumane isolation.
“Other social creatures like guinea pigs and budgerigars are also covered by this legislation,” Nicola Oakley writes for The Mirror. “Switzerland even has companies which pair guinea pigs up with partners when the inevitable happens and one of the original couple dies.”
Additional animal welfare laws mandate a training course for dog owners before they’re able to legally own one.
Japan: You Can Only Dance After Midnight if the Lights Are On
Time Out Tokyo reports that club owners and DJs had a major victory in 2015 against government officials who were trying to ban dancing after midnight. The law originates from decades past, when dance halls were often venues for prostitution, and recently resurfaced after a series of incidents at nightclubs.
“After two years of campaigning, lobbying and drafting, the new law allows people to keep on shaking after the clock strikes twelve — if there’s enough light. A small amendment states that the level of lighting should be at least 10 lux, which corresponds to the lighting in a cinema during intermission.”
Thailand: You Can’t Leave the House Without Wearing Underwear
While this is one of the most common laws that expats like to chuckle at when they visit the region, few understand why it was created. In all likelihood, this has to do with hygiene purposes in bathhouses or public decency laws surrounding nudity.
Johnny Ward of One Step 4Ward asks the real question that comes to mind upon hearing Thailand’s underwear law: How will police enforce it?
“If you do have a penchant for airy nethers, I don’t really see how this law can be checked or enforced, so you’re probably safe. Just don’t head out without your trousers, too — that’d be a dead giveaway.”
Malaysia and Singapore: No Spitting (Except into Drains)
Be careful if you have something caught in your throat in Malaysia or Singapore, as you could be fined for spitting on the sidewalk, within a private building, or really anywhere that isn’t a drain.
“Those found liable under this Act may be liable to a fine of RM 100 [20 EUR],” writes the team at Cilisos, a Malaysian news blog. “Our neighbour Singapore, however, decided to one up us recently, fining a perennial spitter RM 2047 [430 EUR] and jailing him for five weeks!”
Not only does this spitting law protect the cleanliness of a city, it also promotes good hygiene and manners for its citizens.
China: Reincarnation is Illegal Without the Government’s Permission
This law has been passed around for several years, but recently came back up with the aging Dalai Lama.
“Although the ruling Communist Party is an officially atheist organisation — officials are barred from practicing religion — it is perennially uncomfortable with forces outside of its control, and has for years demanded the power to regulate the supernatural affairs of Tibetan Buddhist figures, determining who can and cannot be reincarnated,” Jonathan Kaiman writes at the Los Angeles Times. “Experts say it's also part of a wide-ranging effort to tighten control over the turbulent region.”
Vietnam: You Will Be Fined 300 USD for Driving With No Hands
Zoe Osborne created a guide at City Pass Guide for expats looking to move to Vietnam. The list includes laws and information ranging from imports to labor laws. She even includes a chart listing traffic violations for motor vehicles and the possible fines that come with them.
“According to traffic rules in Vietnam, you are legally obliged to be obnoxious with your horn when overtaking someone,” she writes. “You are also not allowed to undertake, though everyone does, and you are not allowed to drive or ride a bicycle with headphones in, though everyone also does.”
South Korea: Kids Need Permission to Play Video Games After Midnight
South Korea once had a “Cinderella Law” that prohibited children from playing video games between the hours of midnight and 6 a.m. The basis behind this law well-meaning: Video game addiction is a very real problem that the government and parents are looking to curb.
However, this law also came with a workaround: Kids could just log on through their parents’ accounts. Parents also weren’t thrilled that they couldn’t give special permission for their kids to play. As a result, this law was rolled back in 2014, Min-Jeong Lee reports for the Wall Street Journal.
Now, parents are able to give permission for their children to keep playing into the night.
New Zealand: It is a Crime to Willingly Deface Currency
This is a law that can be found across the world, so expat best practices discourage travelers from stepping on, tearing or writing on the money they have while still in the country. Writer Rachel Thomas pointed out that filmmaker Taika Waititi willingly broke this law in 2000 for an art project that involved painting money, but never faced charged for the project.
While these laws might seem archaic, they do serve two purposes. This first ensures the quality of currency in circulation — so businesses and banks don’t have to handle ratty money — while the second refers to political loyalty. Defacing figureheads on currency is viewed as disrespectful (and even an attack) to the figures on them, and in many cases the government itself.
Canada: You Can’t Text While Waiting in a Drive-Thru
In 2015, a man was fined 300 CAD for texting in line at a Tim Hortons drive-thru. Texting while operating a moving vehicle is illegal in most parts of Canada, and still counts even if you’re sitting in a drive-thru or waiting at a red light.
“The officer saw the man texting on the road before entering the drive-thru,” Jason Tchir writes at the Globe and Mail. “The officer had intended to give a warning to the man, who kept texting when he got into the drive-thru, holding the phone in both hands and steering with his knees.”
If this seems more like an offense given because of a technicality, think about the same situation with a drunk driver. Someone who is sitting behind the wheel of a fast food chain drunk might not be a danger to society, but they will be once they pull back onto the main road.
Canada: 50 Percent of Prime Time TV Content Must be Locally Made
This law was modified fairly recently. The content aired during the daytime can be produced anywhere, but half of the content broadcasted at night must be made in Canada — and there are similar laws for radio stations and their songs.
“The decisions are meant to help Canadian television compete and thrive in a world of intense competition from foreign online providers like Netflix,” Claire Brownell writes at the Financial Post. ”The goal of the change is to encourage broadcasters to take the money they were spending on mediocre daytime programming, created simply to fill the quota, and spend it on high quality shows with the potential for international appeal instead.”
Australia: It Is Illegal to Intentionally Disrupt a Wedding
Having a man with a leaf blower walk past your outdoor wedding (or beachgoers crashing your seaside vows) might put a damper on your ceremony, but the bride and groom can take action Down Under if they feel their special day was disrupted intentionally.
“According to the Summary Offences Act 7A, any person who intentionally obstructs or disturbs a wedding ceremony or funeral — whether secular or religious — is guilty of an offence and could face a maximum penalty of a whopping $10,000 or two years’ imprisonment,” Lauren McMah writes at News.com.au.
Keep that in mind if a few of your wedding guests get too rowdy before you’re able to say “I do.”
South Africa: Herders Have the Right of Way
If you’re driving down the road in South Africa, make sure you’re giving room and time for herders. “There is a limit to the rule, though,” the team at AFKInsider writes. “The animals must be donkeys, goats, pigs, ostriches, mules or horses.”
While the goal of this law is to protect the safety of drivers, it also serves to reduce destruction-of-property disputes if an animal were to run into a car or a driver were to kill an animal.
India: You Must Report Found Money to the Police
Any money exceeding 10 rupees (0.15 EUR) that is found on the side of the road must be turned in to the proper authorities to find its true owner, according to the Indian Treasure Trove Act of 1878.
“According to this law, whenever any treasure exceeding in amount or value 10 rupees is found, the finder shall, as soon as practicable, give to the Collector notice in writing the place where it is found, the nature of amount with date,” writes the team at Silicon India.
While this law is meant to protect the property of citizens, it’s questionable how often it is enforced — especially for small sums.
Brazil: You Cannot Wear a Helmet Inside
This law might seem confusing at first, but makes sense once you understand the nature of why it was passed.
“The majority of Brazilian states have a law that forbids the use of helmets or any other type of object or piece of cloth covering the face of individuals upon entering a public or private premise,” Patrick Bruha writes at The Brazil Business.
“This law was passed in order to reduce the number of attempts of robbery by bikers. By removing the helmet or piece of cloth, the individual is more easily recognised by security tapes.”
This law also reduces getaway time, as the thief would have to don his or her helmet before taking off.
Russia: It Is Illegal to Drive a Dirty Car
This law has been passed in both Chelyabinsk and Moscow, and can garner a fine of 2,000 rubles (30 EUR). While this law might follow the same logic as other laws on this list (like the Majorcan swimsuit law or the Malaysian spitting rule), the team at Transparent Language suspects there’s a more sinister side to it.
“With a population of over one million people, you can bet that there are going to be some dirty cars,” Jenya writes. “Basically, this law provides the police with an excuse to pull you over should they need ‘lunch money.’ Both of these cities could be a great place to open up a car wash.”