Weird laws from around the world
2019 has been choc-a-block with quite surprising and often unwelcome news, and so we’ve decided to lift a bit of that morbid veil and focus on something lighter to end off the year.
Although most of the laws mentioned in this article will have little impact on most of our lives, it may still be relevant to those planning on travelling or relocating abroad. It should be noted, however, that many of these laws are in the process of being repealed or may be specific to certain regions and citizens of a country – such as South Africa’s municipal by-laws.
Tasmania – asking questions for rewards
In many countries, those who have lost their pooch would give a hefty sum to retrieve said pooch back or offer a reward for the return of stolen goods. And most people would pay the reward without asking questions.
In Tasmania, however, the Police Offences Act 1935 – Sect 41 Advertising reward for return of stolen property stipulates that you’re not allowed to retrieve stolen goods at a reward without asking questions. The stipulation includes rules on advertising for rewards – one may not use any language inferring that a person will not be questioned regarding how the goods had come into their possession.
The rule may make sense on a judicial level as authorities could hardly be seen to condone any illicit behaviour involving theft or extortion, but one has to wonder whether punishing those who have been stolen from for taking initiative is quite the way to go.
France – permission for dying
There are three towns in France which have instituted the law of prohibition of death. The laws are absurd for good reason, however.
The first was enacted in Le Lavandou in 2000 after planning permission for a new cemetery was turned down due to environmental concerns. The mayor stated that the law points out the absurdity of not having space to bury the dead, and that people should consequently just not be allowed to die. Two other towns followed suit – Cugnaux and Sarpourenx followed suit in 2007 and 2008 respectively and both got approval to expand their graveyards.
In Sarpourenx, however, the law includes that individuals may not die within town limits if they do not have a burial plot.
Scotland – no underwear, no beer
A fun Scots Law which was passed down through the generations and certainly doesn’t have much legal bearing in the modern world has to do with the age old question ‘what do Scots wear underneath their kilts?’.
Well, it seems it goes without saying that those who wear underwear are to be fined two beers. Not sure whether the beer fine would be prohibitive in the least, but not to worry as the law really is not enforceable anymore. Given Scotland’s colourful past and equally colourful heritage which includes Picts, Gaels and Norse, it was inevitable that some custom laws be passed through to the legislature. But most of these laws merely exist because no one has taken the time to repeal them, while others are still waiting to be ratified centuries on.
USA – no donkey in your bathtub
This quirky law is applicable in Arizona only and came about after a flood. A farmer whose donkey was accustomed to sleeping in the bathtub had been swept miles away inside the tub and the rescue effort was quite the challenge.
As a result, lawmakers passed legislation in 1924 to bar anyone from keeping donkeys in their bathtubs in Arizona.
South Africa – licence to bear signal
Of course those of us who have lived in the country will know about the absurdity of the TV licence law. Yes, South Africa is not the only country requiring a licence to purchase a television set, but it is one of the only countries which offer pretty much nothing in return. In the days of yore when most people still watched SABC as a rule, TV licences made at least a bit of sense as all South Africans owning a TV set were therefore responsible to foot the bill of the South African Broadcasting Corporation and could benefit from it.
Of course there is a loophole, but this loophole is not very practical. South Africans who use a smart TV or ‘TV box’ are allowed to forego the annual licence fee, should they cover the cost of an annual inspection to verify that the TV does not receive a broadcast signal. And you guessed it – the inspection fee is more than the annual licence fee. To top it all, those in poor areas (who are generally the only people watching SABC) can apply for a concessionary licence fee of R71 per annum. In fact, many South African expats who have tried to cancel their licences have been caught up in red tape for years.
Given that the SABC have been accused of widespread fraud, have even been embroiled in the assassination of one of their journalists and want to increase licence fees while they are already misappropriating funds from government coffers, it’s not surprising that only 9% of South Africans feel it’s fair to pay a TV licence fee.
Samoa – remember your wife’s birthday!
Though Rocket Lawyer who originally posted about this law stated that they could not find historical context for it, they vouch for its authenticity.
The site states that it may have to do with increase in marticide linked to forgotten birthdays as more husbands ended up dead or harmed following such slights. And the rumour is therefore that the law was instituted to prevent physical altercations and allow wives to claim against their husbands for such oversights instead.
Of course, the penalty for forgetfulness is not quite clear and there aren’t publicly available reports around the issue to go on. Just play it safe and log that date on your Google calendar.
Italy – fish are friends, not food!
Given the rise in environmental and vegan pursuits and media outrage in particular, this law is not that odd.
Given the large proportion of goldfish which have died due to mistreatment, Rome instituted a new law which prohibits the giving-away of goldfish as prizes at fairs and festivals and also bars people from keeping goldfish in anything but full-sized aquariums or carrying them in plastic bags.
We’re not exactly sure what full-sized means in this context, but it’s never a bad idea to think on our non-human counterparts on this earth as less deserving of a proper home.
Russia – what the @#$%^?
While much of the world is becoming more liberated in a sense and people are following the suit of linguists who have always professed that foul language is merely a social construct, Russia apparently does not follow such linguistically advanced sentiments.
In fact, in 2014 Russia instituted a new law which prohibits the use of swearing in the media – including in films, television broadcasts, reporting and even blogging. In the event of any disputes, a Russian panel of experts will determine the validity of swearing. Businesses could face fines of up to 50 000 roubles and individuals can be fined up to 2 500 roubles.
The law is a bit of a backtrack to Soviet legislation which sought out the prohibition of purported decadence. Strangely, the legislation does not consider academic research which points out that swearing or cursing (cussing) is historically linked to bad-mouthing or undermining another individual through spoken and written word and the specific words linked to curses. Curses were of course seen as a severe threat in times before scientific and modern logical intervention and words which could be seen as cursing were therefore banned for good reason.
Modern lawmakers, churches and societies without the linguistic or historical savvy have, unfortunately, taken it upon themselves to misinterpret and misapply such rules. Because as everyone knows, it’s quite easy and common to say something negative of someone else without the use of swear words.
Germany – no running out of fuel!
For South Africans the idea of a highway with no speed limits seems quite unfathomable, and yet Germany’s Autobahn have made this work for ages.
Of course, opposition parties and automobile organisations have been trying to clamp down on the legislation and speed limits have already been applied on parts of the Autobahn. Yet the latest vote placed those who voted for a 130 km/h speed limit to those who don’t want a speed limit in parliament at 126 to 498 indicating that speed limits were unlikely to be applied throughout.
Good or bad, these laws mean nothing if you’re short on fuel as it is illegal to run our of fuel on the Autobahn irrespective the speed limit.
New Zealand – non-homicide by proxy?
According to the New Zealand herald, a strange law which still exists in New Zealand which states that one cannot be guilty of homicide or manslaughter through inciting others – or the phrasing used is “influenced the mind of a person alone”.
The Law Reform on Homicide and Manslaughter handbook seems quite grey on the matter. For it is deemed a criminal offense to influence someone to perform a criminal act, and yet in matters of homicide and manslaughter the matter of ‘intent’ boils down to proving that the person who committed the act had been of ‘guilty mind’, and it becomes increasingly difficult to determine that a person who had influenced a culprit is therefore the one of ‘guilty mind’.
As with all laws, however, it usually takes one case to change the law entirely. So best not go interfering with others’ minds.
Portugal – leave the call of nature outside nature!
Portugal forbids urinating in water utilised by the public – which includes the ocean. The reasoning behind the law is not that unfounded. Given high incidences of illnesses and spread of bacteria, the country has insisted for ages that those who swim in public areas retain their natural urges for lavatories.
It remains somewhat perplexing, however, to understand how such outlawed behaviour will be vetted and enforced as it is not likely that anyone will have proof of urination or non-urination at trial.
Nevertheless, although not urinating in public pools (or any other pools) is probably a good guide to go on, marine biologists actually promote urination in the ocean as the nitrogen in urea combines with ocean water to produce ammonium which acts as a nutrient for ocean life. We don’t condone breaking laws, but Italy may contest that one must think of the fish first.
Saudi Arabia – don’t go a-tweetin’
Though social media has taken on a mind of its own and has been taken up by unlikely candidates for vitriol such as the US presidency, South African and UK parliamentarians, one should be very careful in Saudi Arabia.
In fact, in 2014 three Saudi lawyers were arrested and imprisoned for daring to voice their opinions on matters of the state and the judiciary. As with many other nations which ascribe to strict censorship laws, it’s best to leave your digital devices at home.
There are, of course, other weird customs and rules around the world – such as not using hand gestures which seem normal in your country, not accepting eating utensils as a sign of high culture and not assuming shoes are to be worn the same way or at all in other countries or regions.
Happy 2020 to all!
We wish each and all of our followers, clients, friends and affiliates a most prosperous new year and hope to offer you more business in the new year.