“We are deceiving the people of Europe about what is happening here. We disguise your discussions. But we do not disguise strong laws.”
Louis-Antoine-Léon de Saint-Just, French philosopher, 1834.
Loopy laws, bizarre bans and ridiculous regulations – judging by the online commentary, you just can’t get enough of them. They may give us all a decent giggle, or offer our hardworking lawyers a bit of extra pocket money –but dig deeper and they can reveal a whole load about culture, politics and history. What exactly happened to make it illegal to own a single guinea pig? Why would lawmakers ban peeing in the ocean? Who thought it credible to forbid getting drunk in a pub? Or, for that matter, to stop people locking up burglars, running ‘violently’, driving dirty cars, or sleeping on a bench. With its centuries of legal history, and multiple different legal systems, Europe probably offers the looniest laws of all. Don’t believe us? Judge for yourself!
It is illegal to pee in the ocean
Yes, you read it correctly: it’s against the law to pee in the ocean in Portugal. Local laws actually aim at keeping beaches family-friendly which means no urinating while taking a plunge. So if you happen to swim into an unusually warm patch of water at a Portuguese beach, someone’s broken the law! No word on whether anyone has ever actually gotten busted for this, though we pity the task team whose job it is to bring in offenders.
Piercings before 16 years old are forbidden – A 16-year-old teenager can’t get a piercing because the Portuguese state doesn’t allow it.
Offering rings must be declared – If there is one thing that states know how to do, it is to collect taxes. In Portugal, when a husband offers a ring to his wife, she needs to declare the good to Portuguese tax authorities and pay the tax due.
Wearing flip-flops while driving is prohibited
Are you a flip-flop driver? You know: do you wear your flip flops when you drive your car? If so, you may or may not be surprised to know that you can be fined for wearing them whilst driving with a possible fine of up to 200 euros! Why? Because flip flops have the potential to move around and get stuck under the pedal causing you to lose concentration or direct loss of control of the vehicle.
It is illegal to name your child Mandarina – It is the name of the fruit and therefore clearly not suitable for a human being.
(Madrid) Walking too many dogs is forbidden – If you have eight or more dogs on your leesh, then you are doing something illegal and you can get a penalty when the police catches you.
(Seville) Hanging “indecent” items from your washing lines are prohibited – Fines can reach up to €3,000 for serious offences.
It is illegal to kiss whilst train is at the platform
In 1910, the French railways company got tired of the delays caused by couples kissing their farewells on platforms. Thus was born this weird French law that prohibits making out once the train has pulled up to the station. No worries, you probably won’t get arrested – or even scolded – for frenching your goodbyes in Gare du Nord. However, you may get so distracted that you’ll miss your train…
It is illegal to carry live snails on a French high-speed train, unless they have a ticket – Any domesticated animal under five kilos must be a paying passenger in French trains.
It is illegal to have unlimited, self-service ketchup in school cafeterias – Along with unlimited mayonnaise and vinaigrette salad dressing, in an effort to promote healthy eating among kids.
Everyone must have a bail of hay at home – In case the French king passes with his horse…
Dogs are forbidden
Yes, that’s it! Strictly speaking, it is forbidden to own dogs in Iceland. In 1971, a complete ban on dogs was enforced in Reykjavík. The rules have changed since then, but you still need to get permission from the municipality and pay a registration fee. And if you live in an apartment building, you need to get permission from 2/3 of the inhabitants to be allowed to keep a dog (or a cat) if you share an entryway.
Strip clubs are banned – A law prohibits companies from “profit[ing] from employee nudity”.
Children have to be named from a list of pre-approved names – Parents also have to give their kids at least one, but no more than three, forenames.
Freemen are allowed to let their sheep graze in Dublin
In Dublin, those who are bestowed the award of the Freedom of the City are called a freeman/freewoman and they have the right to a number of benefits. One of these is to be entitled to let their sheep graze on common grounds within the city. This includes St. Stephen’s Green and College Green. Bono and Edge from U2 are the most recent freemen to invoke this right back in 2000.
It is illegal to practice witchcraft, sorcery or any such devilish activity – Too bad for Harry Potter fans.
Cows are forbidden to come in contact with pirates – According to Brehon Laws, under no circumstances are they allowed to come in contact with pirates.
(North) It is technically illegal to attend the cinema on Sunday – The Cinemas Order was enacted in 1991 in observation of the Sabbath, whereby people can be fined £50.
You have the right to demand a glass of wine during an exam – But only at Trinity college and according to their own laws!
It is illegal to be drunk on licensed premises
The UK famously has a reputation as a rainy nation with lots of pubs – there’s probably a connection there – but did you know that there is a law in the UK that prohibits being drunk in a pub? Yes, believe it or not, a UK statute actually says: “Every person found drunk in any licensed premises, shall be liable to a penalty” – and the fine currently stands at £200! Maybe think twice before ordering another one…
It is illegal to carry a plank along a pavement – Other offences covered by s 54 of the Metropolitan Police Act 1839 include flying kites, playing annoying games, and sliding on ice or snow in the street.
It is illegal to beat or shake any carpet or rug in any street – However, beating or shaking a doormat is allowed before 8am.
It is illegal to drive cows down the roadway without the permission of the Commissioner of Police – The Metropolitan Streets Act 1867 made it an offence to drive cattle through the streets between 10am and 7pm
It is illegal to pick another person’s cloudberries
Not all berries were created equal. Molter, also known as ‘cloudberries’ or ‘highland gold’, are considered rare delicacies since they’re not commercially grown. You’re only allowed to pick them from places that are not fenced otherwise there may be serious trouble and we don’t just mean the police: farmers have been known to shoot at trespassers for stealing their cloudberries. Careful with the cloudberries!
It is forbidden to neuter your dog – The idea is that neutering is not something that will help your dog have a better life.
It is illegal to dress up as a police officer for Halloween – The law states that “unauthorized use of a uniform” likely to “weaken confidence in public authority” is illegal.
It is forbidden to read your boyfriend or girlfriend’s text messages – This is considered a “Violation of the right to private communication” and can land you up to two years in jail.
It is illegal to paint your house without getting a license first
You have bold ideas for painting the outside of your house? Think twice as a Swedish law guards against having houses that stick out. If you are caught, a fine will be issued, the price will then again depend on previous offences you have committed. The rule of thumb is that you need to keep to similar colours (as was before) if the building is within city bounds. Good news: in the countryside you can paint your house any colour!
It is illegal to post a picture of Swedish Krona – Currency is protected by copyright in Sweden!
Swedish princes or princesses need the consent of the government to get married – Without consent, they forfeit the right of succession for their children and all other descendants.
It is against the law to play music in a taxi
If on a long taxi ride you ask the driver to put on a CD to pass the time, you could be landing them in hot water. If a Finnish taxi driver plays any music in their car for a paying customer, then they must pay about 14 euros a year to the Finnish Composers Copyright Society. The 14 euros applies for all music, not just Finnish music. But best take your phone full of playlists and a pair of headphones next time.
It is illegal to buy alcohol after 9pm – In an effort to reduce public drunkenness, cut healthcare costs, and prevent deaths.
It is compulsory to pay the TV Tax – Even if you don’t own a TV.
It is against the law to keep a gun at home – Hunting guns must be kept under lock and key at a hunting lodge rather than at home.
It is forbidden to freeze a track for ice skating – Due to fears of children falling and hurting themselves, which the local government is held accountable for.
It is compulsory to check for children hiding under your car before you set off
We all know about pre-driving checks that we should carry out before starting any journey in our cars; check the mirrors, make sure everyone’s got their seatbelts on, ensure you’ve got full visibility in all windows and so on. In Denmark, these pre-drive checks are a little more thorough: by law, the driver of any motor vehicle also has to check underneath their vehicle for bodies (alive or otherwise!) before setting off!
Restaurants can not charge for water – Unless it’s served together with ice or a lemon slice.
If the body of water called øresund becomes solid and a Swede tries to cross the ice you are legally allowed to beat him with a stick till they go back – The law is still valid to this day.
It is illegal not to report police when a person has died – You’ll be fined with 20 Danish krone.
It is forbidden to honk if there is no evident reason – No ‘goodbye honking’ then!
It’s against the law to lock a burglar in your toilet
Picture this: a robber breaks in to your house while you’re at home. In a burst of adrenaline and quick-thinking you trap them in the bathroom. Hurrah, success! Well, no. By locking up that burglar and depriving them of the privilege of stealing your stuff, you’re simultaneously depriving the burglar of their liberty — and that’s against the law.
Even after a divorce, the in-laws are still your family – Even once the ink on your divorce papers has dried.
It is illegal to purchase fireworks with the intention to use them – Unless it is three days before New Year’s Eve.
It is against the law to take a souvenir from the forest – That means taking moss, mushrooms, or even a fallen acorn.
It is illegal to share a house – This is to prevent a load of house shares. This law is pretty much never enforced though.
It is illegal to get married in the Netherlands… – Unless one of the two people exchanging vows is Dutch.
Dogs and oxen can be requisitioned to propel army vehicles
Belgium’s reputation for weird laws has grown into legacy around the world. Quite a few of their weird laws have to do with advancing technology. To mention just one: a provision in a code concerning the military, dating back to 1939, regulates that “beasts of burden (horses, oxen, dogs, etc.)” can be requisitioned “for vehicles employed by the army”. Always useful for when your drone runs out of fuel…
None shall take your last cow (or 12 goats), pig and 24 chickens – These items may not, in principle, be seized by a bailiff, basically in order to safeguard minimal living conditions and means.
The Belgian flag is unconstitutional by law – The mismatch between the actual flag and its description in the constitution has endured for almost two centuries by now.
Only the elderly, cripples, women and children can gather leftover crop – What sounds like a discriminative law today once gave rights to the most vulnerable in society. But it had to be done from sunrise until sunset and only manually.
All cars must have windshield wipers
There are some driving rules that are just downright strange! In Luxembourg, windshield wipers are mandatory in your vehicle. We wouldn’t dare saying that Luxembourg is a rainy country… But the strange thing is, it is compulsory even if your vehicle doesn’t have a windshield. So next time when you drive down in your sports convertible in Luxembourg without a windshield, make sure windshield wipers are still fit in!
It is forbidden to run out of fuel on the motorway
One of the most glorious things about the Autobahn in Germany is that there’s no speed limit on many parts of it. So you can drive as fast as you want. But this isn’t quite a lawless highway. If you run out of fuel, you’ll actually be fined by police for stopping without good reason. The idea is that if you failed to sufficiently fill up your tank, your breakdown was your own fault – and that’s why you’re in trouble. Harsh but fair.
It is forbidden to tune the piano at midnight – The Federal High Court of Justice has ruled that making music or practicing your instrument in rental apartments is only allowed between 8:00-12:00 and 14:00-20:00.
It is forbidden to keep urns at home – The German law of Friedhofszwang (“cemetary compulsion”) demands that any mortal remains have to be deposited in a designated space.
It is forbidden to say “Du” to a policeman – The Germans learn to discern the social minutiae of when to say “Du” or “Sie”, addressing a policeman in 2nd person singular can be cause for a fine of up to 600 euros.
It is against the law to deny a chimney sweep access to your home – but only if he is demanding nicely.
It is forbidden to make out or eat something smelly in the train
Vienna might be home to Gustav Klimt’s most famous painting, The Kiss, which is widely regarded as one of the most important pieces of art ever made. But love is definitely not in the air in the Austria capital after strait-laced officials agreed to slap canoodling couples with a fine if they are caught smooching on board its trains. This happened after complaints from passengers opposed to such displays of public affection…
It’s illegal to own only one guinea pig
If you plan to bring your favourite fluffy friend to Switzerland, you might want to get it a playmate. The Swiss passed a law to ensure that all “social animals” (Guinea pigs, goldfish and budgerigars are cited as examples) have the company of their own kind. The reason for this is that they’re social species, and they are considered victims of abuse if they aren’t able to regularly interact with others of their species.
It is forbidden to recycle on Sundays – It shouldn’t happen on the legally enforced day of rest.
It is forbidden to cut your grass on Sundays – Like taking a bath at night, or doing any kind of DIY.
It is forbidden to ski while reciting poetry – Apparently this is forbidden, but exactly who is monitoring such an activity isn’t certain.
It is compulsory to have access to a nuclear shelter – Every house in Switzerland has to have, or have access to, a nuclear shelter.
Goldfish bowls are against the law
In Rome, you aren’t allowed to keep your goldfish in round glass bowls. This type of bowl is considered cruel, especially since scientists say the bowl limits their oxygen flow and can cause the animal to go blind. A subsection of this 2005 fish-friendly bylaw also prohibits giving away goldfish, or other animals, as prizes. The same law also ensures legal protection to people who feed colonies of cats. Go figure.
It is illegal to touch your genitals in public – Men who touch their genitals in public, even just for a quick scratch, are committing a criminal offence.
It is forbidden for men to wear skirts – Be it a tutu, a mini or a sarong.
(Eboli) It is illegal to perform any public displays of affection in any moving vehicle – Even a subtle kiss.
(Eraclea) Sandcastles are illegal – Eraclea is probably not the friendliest beach for kids!
(Capri) Noisy footwear are forbidden – One couple was actually arrested for their ‘excessively noisy flip-flops’.
(Milan) It is compulsory to smile – The idea was to
market Milan as a friendly, receptive city.
It is illegal to run ‘violently’
Living in Malta, whether you’re local or foreign, means it sometimes easy to forget that there are actually laws. Next time you get the sudden urge to run down Republic Street in Valletta, think again. Because in Malta, it’s a crime to “run violently” in any street or public space with the risk of injuring others. Considering Malta’s obesity problem, maybe future amendments should make it a crime not to run.
It is illegal to cut any grass in any fortification without a permit – The Maltese criminal code expressly states it!
It is illegal to leave any instrument, be it a ladder, iron bar, or weapon, unattended – It might be improperly used by “thieves or other wrong-doers”.
It is against the law to shoot “doves or pigeons, other than wild doves or pigeons, belonging to any other person” – Those little rats of the sky enjoy a level of protection most birds rarely enjoy.
It is a crime to go naked or be indecently dressed – In “the harbours, on the seashore or in any other public place”.
It is against the law to drive with headlights off
It does not matter whether the rain falls, it’s snowing or the sun shines brightly in the sky – the lights of your car should be turned on all the time. This is, perhaps, a bit strange, but you better never joke with the traffic rules. Moreover, such a requirement is not entirely unreasonable. Studies have shown that other drivers are more aware of maneuvering around cars, if they have the lights on.
There is a special rate for taxi drivers after a nuclear explosion – Czech taxi’s have three rates: the average level 1, level 2 which is usually used for tourists and level 3 which is the Government’s rate that must be used for all taxi rides after a nuclear explosion.
Noise after 10pm is forbidden
Bratislava is becoming a popular party destination, especially for stag parties. But rowdy behaviour between 10pm and 6am is frowned upon and could get you in a bind with the police. Note also that it’s forbidden to drink alcohol on the street in Bratislava’s Old Town. Many travellers have been fined or jailed for being a public nuisance – so keep an eye on your alcohol intake and avoid becoming too intoxicated.
It is forbidden to wear a Winnie the Pooh T-Shirt near schools
The cuddly little bear all stuffed with fluff also — gasp! — does not wear pants. Because of this, Poland issued a ban on Winnie the Pooh around playgrounds and schools, finding the A.A. Milne character a bit too risqué for the likes of impressionable children. As open-minded as Poles can be, they reject his “dubious sexuality” and “inappropriate” dress. Best to leave your bear attire at home…
It is against the law to check your phone while crossing the street
Lithuania’s phone-addicted pedestrians have had to learn crossing the street without mobile devices. Crossing the street while talking on or checking a phone could cost them a fine of up to 40 euros! According to the country’s government, such a law is required to keep a check on the rate of pedestrian deaths in the country which is the third-worst in the European Union.
Buying yourself a new first name is legal
You can have your Latvian name changed for around 70 euros, if you like – however, if your name is truly terrible, they’ll let you change it for free! Think: ‘Gonoreja’ is a Latvian name and its ‘j’ is pronounced like a ‘y’. Seriously! And yes, it means exactly what you think it does. We are not sure what parent would curse their child with the name ‘Gonoreja’, or the effect that it would have on one’s future…
It is prohibited to smoke outside the entrance of public buildings – This applies to a 10 meters range.
It is prohibited to consume alcohol outside – There is even a fine for that.
Smoking in the presence of a child is against the law – It is even considered physical abuse.
Pedestrians must wear safety reflectors at all time
By law, pedestrians are required to wear safety reflectors – just like for cyclists in many European countries. During the dark winter nights when almost everyone wears black or gray, reflectors are the only source of light, literally casting back light from car headlights. This has slowly become a fashion statement in the country. Some opt for a wristband, others prefer a piece of string or even an expensive designer model…
All cars must carry two wheel chocks in case they break down on a slope – Presumably because of the quality and reliability of the vehicle fleet in Estonia.
It is strictly forbidden to play chess during sex – It seems like too many couples were getting it on while playing chess in Tallinn.
It is illegal to drive a dirty car
It sounds bonkers, but no more so than facing an on-the-spot fine in. You can be fined up to 300,000 Belarus Rubles (that is, up to about 99 euros) for having a dirty vehicle. In particular, the law says that “The driver is prohibited to participate in road traffic on a vehicle covered with dirt (laminations), limiting the driver’s field of vision and also making indiscernible the information on the registration plate at a distance of 40 meters and less”.
It is illegal to keep more than 5 litres of excise tax-exempt alcohol and over 15 litres of alcoholic beverages at home without receipts from the store – Never throw the receipts!
It is not allowed to beat out your carpets in the courtyard of an apartment building – If there are no special bars installed for this activity, wrap your dusty rug up and take it back to your apartment.
It is forbidden to walk barefoot in the metro – Even if you developed a couple of painful callus on your toes, do not remove your shoes!
Nude sunbathing is prohibited – Belarus is probably not the best country for the lovers of sunbathing in the buff.
Picnics on graves are allowed
Commemorative days follow Easter in Ukraine. Ukrainians usually bring food to the cemetery and eat at the table or bench near the gravesite. The belief is that these are the days when the souls of the deceased descend to the earth. Therefore, the food is consecrated, and only then is it shared at the graveyard with the poor, and among each other as well.
It is illegal to be dead for too long
You can’t be dead for too long in Romania. Or at least, legally speaking. In 2016 a man declared dead, although still alive, lost his trial to demand his death to be cancelled. He said he lost the case because he filed the appeal too late, about two years after the death was pronounced, and his request was rejected as inadmissible from a procedural point of view. “I am dead on paper, although I am very much still alive” declared the poor 63-year old man…
It is forbidden to have sex with the lights on
Budapest has a reputation for being a kind of massive red light district. This may have been true once, and the laws may well still be more accommodating here. But when it comes to lights in Budapest, rules are serious: sex is allowed only with them turned off! You can’t get down and dirty with the lights on; not even at home with your spouse. Maybe they’re just trying to save the electricity?
Inflating intimidating balloons in public places is prohibited – Did you know that globophobia is the fear of Balloons? It frequently develops as a result of being ‘startled’ by balloons bursting at parties and social events.
It is against the law to pick a name outside a pre-approved list – Hungarian names are regulated by law.
It is against the law to take a picture of someone without their permission – A law requires photographers to get permission from everyone who will be depicted in the photo they’re about to take.
Puppies must be fed at least three times a day
Slovenia is probably the most dog-friendly place in Europe. There is even a law regulating the order of daily meals for our tail-wagging friends. Up to six months of age dogs must be fed at least three times a day, from six months to one year of age, at least twice a day, adults at least once a day. Note also that the dog’s place of residence and the procedure for communicating with him will be set in case of a divorce.
Drivers must use hazard lights when backing up – when reversing you must put them on!
Swearing in public places is forbidden – This is viewed as a serious violation of the regulation and is punishable by heavy fines.
If a fine is paid within the first seven days of its payment, the amount is reduced by half – This is meant to incentivise residents to pay fines quickly.
It is illegal to sleep on a public bench, and snore
Gone are the days when you could sleep on a park bench without being fined. ‘Cause now, in Croatia, you can be ticketed and fined for sleeping on a public bench! And think about it: the fine doubles if you’re caught snoring as you slumber! To be more precise: sleeping in a public place will set you back 1000 kn, and if you’re snoring while sleeping in a public place add another 1000kn to the fine.
Foreign visitors must register to the police
By law, all visitors arriving in Serbia must register by the police within 48 hours of their arrival. Not everyone does, of course, but flouting the law is rarely a good idea. Those staying in hotels or hostels are saved the drudgery of having to visit a local police station as the accommodation will take care of this, but those staying with friends or private apartments will have to take themselves to the station to do so.
Bosnia and Herzegovina
Firing with an AK-47 automatic in the air is allowed
Weddings in Bosnia and Herzegovina are a big thing. Although diminishing, the firing of AK-47 automatic rifles and other weapons in the air prior to and after the event, still is common practice especially in rural areas. It seems that the logic of what goes up must come down is lost on everyone. Oh, and don’t even think of how much ammunition might be required to celebrate a newborn baby…
Citizens must pay a tax for traffic-lights
In 1995, the Albanian Parliament passed a law requiring all citizens to pay taxes on traffic-lights in their home towns. You may discuss the soundness of such tax but the story goes even more absurd: once adopted, the residents of Shkodra – one of the oldest cities in Europe and the fifth largest in Albania – staged a protest. Their reason? Shkodra has no traffic lights…
Drivers must carry a fire extinguisher at all times
If you live in Bulgaria before cranking that ignition make sure you’ve packed a fire extinguisher prior to taking off. What are firefighters for right? Instead as a precaution the European country asks that its citizens carry one in the event that something goes wrong. And heck if it doesn’t maybe a citizen from Bulgaria can play the role of Good Samaritan and use it in another case.
It is illegal for front seat passengers to be drunk
It’s ‘out of sight, out of mind’ when it comes to this North Macedonia drinking and driving law. If you have a passenger who is clearly drunk then oust them from the front seat as anyone under the influence of alcohol can’t sit in front, even as a passenger. The idea behind is that the influence of alcohol should not be carried on the front seat of the vehicle with the passenger potentially disturbing the driver.
It is not allowed to buy alcohol in shops after seven o’clock during the winter and nine during the summer – Yet, North Macedonia wouldn’t be North Macedonia if there was no way to bend this rule.
It is illegal to carry any radar detection equipment – whether or not it’s switched on.
Wearing heels on ancient grounds is against the law
Step away from the Acropolis and switch out of your high heels. Shoes with high heels aren’t allowed at historic sites in Greece since 2009. The point on heeled shoes can put a surprising amount of pressure on the ground, and can chisel away at the architectural sites. Since Greece is home to several ancient monument and ruins, the country is dedicated to preserving them.
Smoking when driving is illegal – Now, enforcement may not be optimal.
Indecent behaviour, including mooning, is forbidden – It could result in arrest and a fine or a prison sentence.
Voting is required by law – for every citizen of 18 or older.
It is illegal to drink or eat while driving
Cyprus operates a zero tolerance policy – on all drinking at the wheel. You think it makes sense? Read twice. “All drinking at the wheel”, which surprisingly also includes non-alcoholic drinks like water, soft or coffee. And that’s not it! This also extends to eating too, with a potential fine of €85. You can’t even drink water behind the wheel in Cyprus? In hot temperatures, you will have to pull over to hydrate…
Bringing back home antiques bought in souks is illegal
Holidaymakers are advised to be cautious when buying antiques in souks or markets as taking certain historical items back home could land them in jail. Certain items might be legal to purchase in Turkey, but the act of taking them back home is illegal! Under Turkish law it is indeed an offence to export or even possess genuine antiquities (which includes fossils).
It is illegal to insult Turkey – As well as the Turkish nation, the Turkish currency, Turkish government institutions, or Turkish national heroes.
All married women must get their husband’s permission if they wish to have a job – They also must forfeit the couple’s jointly held assets in the case of divorce.
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