Offbeat Laws, Rules, and Regulations Around the Globe

Around the World, Offbeat — By Zain Iqbal on May 25, 2010 at 4:57 pm

At one point or another you’ve skimmed through a laundry-list of ridiculous ordinances that are questionable in nature. A famous “blue law” from Virginia supposedly bans more than five unrelated women living in a house together, because it would constitute a brothel, although this has been debunked by various websites. If you’re visiting San Francisco, there is allegedly an ordinance on the books that “guarantees sunshine to the masses,” though this law may just be confused with the city’s “Sunshine Ordinance” which merely enforces transparency between the public and the city officials.

There are, however, a few rules, regulations, and laws on the books around the world – some merely amusing, yet some very real – that are truly unique in nature.

Canine-free Antarctica

When famous explorers like Roald Amundsen and Robert Falcon Scott explored the vast, icy plains of the southernmost continent in the early 20th century, dogsled was a convenient way to cross the vast distances. With improvements in aviation, the dogsled became an anachronism as scientists could easily fly from point to point without spending too much time in the cold. Because part of the Antarctic Treaty has banned non-indigenous species in Antarctica, the last sledding dogs were removed by British exploration teams in 1994.

Image: arcticroute.com/Flickr

While it’s arguable whether or not exploration by plane or snowmobile causes equal degradation to the local environment than dogs running around on the ice, unless you’re traveling solely by icebreaker to tour Antarctica, it’s best to leave your favorite pup at home.

Armor-free Parliament

Unless you’re going to a renaissance fair or heading to a very elaborate costume party, keep the suit of plated mail at home if you plan on stopping by the Houses of Parliament in London. According to a BBC article from 2007, wearing a suit of armor inside parliament is illegal. Don’t plan on dying there either, as anyone who does is entitled to a state funeral, and a law against dying was set in place to avoid such elaborate ceremonies.

Image: Jeff Kubina/Flickr

It’s also illegal to eat mince pies on Christmas Day, but the good news is almost half of the people surveyed admit they had broken that law at least once. More good news is if you happen to be pregnant in the United Kingdom and need to use the WC, you are legally entitled to relieve yourself wherever you wish. And according to a source within NileGuide, it’s also legal to relieve yourself on the back right tire of your own automobile – perfect for those post-pub outings.

Atheist-free Tennessee

This next one really doesn’t have anything to do with traveling, but perhaps you’re a public servant looking to relocate to Tennessee and seeking public office. If you officially state that you are an atheist, then you are out of luck. According to the Tennessee constitution, Article IX, Section 2: “No person who denies the being of God, or a future state of rewards and punishments, shall hold any office in the civil department of this State.”

Image: micklpickl/Flickr

On the other hand, Tennessee doesn’t exactly discriminate as members of the clergy are also not allowed to seek public office. Also, if you’re a professional dueler, or have instigated a duel, or even facilitated a duel, you aren’t allowed to run for office; in fact, you’ll be duly punished for even taking such actions.

Expletive-free New Orleans

Firefighters have rather selfless jobs and are constantly in danger of putting themselves in harm’s way to save others. Because of this, the city of New Orleans has enacted a code that makes it illegal to curse at firefighters while they are performing their duties. Therefore, if for some bizarre you don’t exactly agree with how your hotel fire is being extinguished, try a strongly-worded letter instead.

Image: AMagill/Flickr

Of course, the curse-free zone doesn’t apply to off-duty firefighters, so if you happen to be on Bourbon Street and want to give one of them a piece of your mind, by all means try; but don’t say we didn’t warn you of potential consequences.

Open Season On the Welsh

Welsh travelers beware: a medieval law still on the books from the the 15th century states that anyone who finds a Welshman within the city walls of Chester in northwest England may accost them and hang them from the gallows. Also, a Welsh person outside the city walls of Chester and within shooting distance of a longbow or crossbow may be fired upon. In fact, this law was brought up as recently as 2007 in the House of Commons by the MP of Chester (as a tongue-in-cheek remark, we hope.)

Image: brdavids/Flickr

While the rule is still technically on the books –  several modern MPs have motioned for it to be repealed – it has been almost entirely ignored. King Henry IV of England enacted the law in order to punish local Welsh who rebelled against his army in 1403, even though most of the citizens had sympathies toward their neighbors across the border.

Death-free Zone

The state of São Paulo is one of the largest provinces in the world by population, home to almost 41 million people, with over 19 million living in the famous city of São Paulo itself. Biritiba-Mirim, a city close to São Paulo, has not had a problem with its living population as much as its dying population, and enacted a proposal that stated its human residents are not allowed to “expire.”

Image: Andre Deak/Flickr

As one can imagine, the city’s rule is fairly difficult to enforce and is in fact a protest of a nationwide law that prohibits the establishment of cemeteries in a place deemed “environmentally sensitive or significant.” Birtiba-Mirim sits on a water source for millions of people within the province; however, the municipality has run out of cemetery space for which to bury its dead. If you happen to be unfortunate enough to pass away in Biritiba-Mirim, you can expect burial either in a shared crypt with another body, or worse yet under one of the local sidewalks!

Blue Laws and Free-for-alls

In most parts of the world, young people need to be anywhere between the ages of 16 and 21 to legally drink alcohol. If you happen to be traveling in Saudi Arabia, Afghanistan, Brunei, Bangladesh, Iran, Kuwait, or Yemen just to name a few, then good luck grabbing a beer at the local tavern (much less even finding that local tavern) as alcohol is strictly prohibited in those countries.

Image: stefanravn/Flickr

On the other hand, there are a few countries where alcohol is not only legal, but available for purchase at any age; basically, if you’re old enough to toddle into a store with a handful of cash and point to the right bottle, it’s yours. Cambodia, Serbia, Albania, Armenia, and the South Pacific nation of Solomon Islands have no restrictions when it comes to alcohol purchase or consumption.

Don’t Feed the Birds

Some may think that feeding birds is relaxing and enjoyable way to pass the time, as well as communing with our feathered friends. Not so much in Venice where offering treats to pigeons may result in a fine of up to €450, or $600. This ordinance was enacted after locals grew tired of cleaning up after the pigeons due to the massive amount of food tourists would feed them.

Image: j.reed/Flickr

Venice may have taken a page from Trafalgar Square in London, where along with fining people for attracting pigeons with bird feed, the caretakers of the square hired a falconer to chase the birds away.

Irresponsible Drivers Beware

For years, Lagos, Nigeria has had some of the most notorious congestion in the world. The city has tried various schemes to alleviate the city’s choked expressways, anything from allowing cars with certain-numbered license plates to drive on certain days, or just banning them altogether on weekends. However, many Lagos drivers decided to not only disregard the new regulations, but to openly flout existing traffic laws, such as driving the wrong way down a multi-directional street.

Image: dolapo/Flickr

In order to curb such illegal and highly dangerous activity, authorities have resorted to not only citing the driver of the car, but any passengers who may be riding along in the vehicle. If you happen to be a passenger in a car with a driver who is thinking about short-cutting it down a one-way street to avoid traffic, think about how it might affect your safety as well as your wallet.

The Wheels of Justice

Speaking of bizarre driving laws, Zimbabwe recently enacted a new policy to enforce court appearances by making victims of crime drive the accused to court. That’s right; because of massive fuel shortages in the economically ravaged country coupled with chronic no-shows among defendants, the courts decided that it would help efficiency within the justice system.

Image: whatleydude/Flickr

Because of the near collapse of Zimbabwe’s economy over the past number of years, services have in turn taken a hit. With overcrowded prisons and inadequate management, it’s not surprising that local governments such as in the capital of Harare push victims to take matters into their own hands when it comes to the courts. Luckily, if you are a victim and you’re picking up your accuser, you don’t have to go alone. Prison officers will accompany you in your car, but be warned: you might have to pick them up too.

Have Gun, Will Carry

Whether you’re anti-gun or pro-NRA, the United States has a checkered and/or colorful history with firearms, depending on who you talk to. While guns are legal at the federal level, most states have some level of control over where, when, and in what capacity you can carry them.

Image: Nevada Tumbleweed/Flickr

If you happen to be wandering around Alaska, Arizona, or Vermont and you see someone openly packing heat on the street, it’s a result of each of those states allowing its citizens to openly carry firearms. Because Vermont’s constitution is so similar to the US Constitution, it has some of the most lax gun laws in the United States, allowing the free carry of guns, concealed or open, without a permit.

Long Live the King (Seriously)

King Bhumibol Adulyadej of Thailand is the longest-serving head of state and monarch in the world, and highly revered among his own people because of his generous projects to help improve the Thai quality of life. He is so important that, even though he has no authoritative powers under the Thai constitution, he has used his influence to end coups and protests against the government. His recent ill-health has even been said to negatively affect the economic situation of Thailand.

Image: permanently scatterbrained/Flickr

Because of this extraordinary influence, Thai political leaders have reinforced the rules regarding insults or criticism of the king, known as lèse majesté. Any insult or criticism of the king may be punished by fines and a heavy prison sentence, whether you’ve defaced an image of the king on the street, or merely failed to stand during the Royal Anthem.

Leave the Wrigley’s At Home

Singapore is one of the world’s most prosperous countries, having started as a newly independent nation after World War II and quickly developing under the almost single-handed guidance of Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew. The 5 million citizens of this island city-state on the tip of the Malay Peninsula now enjoy one of the highest standards of living in the world, and Singapore is one of the major hubs for commerce in Asia.

Image: alex-s/Flickr

Dig a little deeper and you’ll find the cultural and social aspects of Singapore’s society are carefully managed at almost every level. Artistic and creative works for public display must be vetted by government officials, and bringing materials into the country that might be considered obscene by Singaporean standards are banned. As of 1992, even the importation or sale of chewing gum was prohibited in order to help maintain a litter-free environment, although brands for therapeutic purposes are permitted. When Lew Kuan Yew was pressed over the peculiarity of such a ban, he curtly replied “If you can’t think because you can’t chew, try a banana.”

All Praise the Dear Leader

One of the last bastions of communist rule lies in North Korea, the secretive authoritarian regime led by dictator and “Dear Leader” Kim Jong-Il. This tightly controlled country regulates everything that comes across its borders, including tourists whose curiosity is piqued by this Stalinst backwater. If you’re interested in roaming free through North Korea so you can see the sights on your own, forget about it. The state has set up pre-planned tours for all its guests, making sure you see only what they want you to see.

Image: Mr Bao 包先生/Flickr

A mandatory sight on the tour is a visit to the Kim Il-Sung Square, named after the father of Kim Jong-Il and “Eternal President” of North Korea. Visitors are expected to pay their respects to Kim Il-Sung in the form of flowers or a simple bow. It’s best to avoid criticism of both the “Dear Leader” and “Eternal President” as a perceived slight toward either of these figures could result in interrogation or even imprisonment. That said, we doubt a North Korean labor camp is high on any traveler’s to-do list.

Tags: atheists, carry laws, chewing gum ban, concealed weapons, dear leader, feeding the birds, House of Commons, Kim Jong-Il, King Bhumibol, Lagos, lese majeste, North Korea, NRA, odd laws, pigeons, prohibition, Singapore, strange laws, Trafalgar Square, Welsh, zimbabwe

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