The Law

Mostly oddities that nobody bothers to enforce

In ancient Egypt, killing a cat was a crime punishable by death.

In Saudi Arabia a woman can get a divorce if her husband refuses to give her coffee.

In Finland Donald Duck comics were banned because he doesn’t wear trousers.

In Sienna, Italy, it is illegal to be a prostitute if your name is Mary.

In Russia it is a criminal offence to drive around in a dirty car.

In Britain, though the law has recently been amended, for many years attempting to commit suicide was a capital offence. Offenders could be hanged for trying.

In Singapore there is a similar law. It is illegal not to vote in a general election. The punishment for not voting is to be struck off the register of voters. Failure to flush a public lavatory after use may result in a hefty fine. It is also illegal to urinate in an elevator. Littering, spitting and smoking in public places are civic offences which attract instant fines.

In Alaska it is illegal to look at a moose from the window of an aeroplane or other flying vehicle.

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 – and you must wear a shirt while driving a car.

In Alabama, it is illegal to wear a fake moustache that causes laughter in church.
In New York, a fine of $25 can be levied for flirting. This old law specifically prohibits men from turning around on any city street and looking “at women in that way”.

In France, it is illegal to kiss on the railways. No pig may be addressed as Napoleon by its owner.

In Russia, talks are under way to make kissing in the streets of Moscow illegal. Mayor Yuri Luzhkov says he has had enough of couples kissing on underground trains, in shopping centres and at the cinema. The law should be in force by the beginning of January. First offenders will be given a warning but repeat kissers face fines and possible jail terms.

In Florida, a woman may be fined for falling asleep under a hairdryer – as can the salon owner for allowing her to do so. It is also illegal to sing in a public place while dressed in a swimsuit.

In Cambodia, it is illegal to use water guns in New Year celebrations. Previously, participants had been known to fill water guns with sewage and use them against traffic.

In Germany, motorists can be fined for swearing or making derogatory signs.

In Denmark, if a horse-drawn carriage is trying to pass a car and the horse becomes uneasy, the owner of the car is required to pull over and, if necessary, cover the car. And customers are not expected to pay for food at an inn unless they are, in their own opinion, full.

In Canada, it is illegal to kill a sick person by frightening him.

In Switzerland, it is illegal to flush the toilet after 10pm if you live in an apartment. Sunday is considered a sacred day: clothes may not be hung out to dry, lawns may not be mown and cars may not be washed.

In Italy, a man may be arrested for wearing a skirt.

In the UK, according to an ancient bylaw, you can wave your arm to stop a taxi but you must not shout. And it is illegal to eat mince pies or Christmas pudding on Christmas Day. Cromwell implemented this law as the ingredients were considered pagan in origin.

A French tourist was recently jailed in Finland for rolling for joy in virgin snow. Neighbours were alarmed by his behaviour and alerted police. But the 27-year-old man, who could not speak Finnish and had no ID, was unable to explain himself. He was arrested on the spot, police saying: “We felt a warm cell was the safest place for him.”

In 1999, 10-year-old British tourist Ted Hills was arrested by Barbados airport officials for wearing Marks & Spencer camouflage clothing. Combat clothes are strictly outlawed on the island, but airport officials allowed Hills to leave the airport once he had changed his outfit.

A German tourist whose nine-year-old son took pebbles from a beach for a school project was arrested at Antalya airport in Turkey. He has been charged with smuggling “archaeologically valuable national treasures” and could face up to 10 years in prison. Many beaches in Britain are also protected. Budleigh Salterton beach is one such example – East Devon District Council has placed signs warning of a £1,000 fine for “removing beach materials”.

A British woman was arrested in Detroit for overstaying her tourist visa by 20 minutes. Adrienne Hughes arrived in Detroit and was promptly arrested for inadvertantly overrunning the 90-day limit on a previous visa. She spent more than seven hours in a interrogation room before being escorted to her flight back to Britain.

Even the Rolling Stones came close to being arrested for smoking in New York. Mayor Michael Bloomberg was watching their live concert on television at home and was incensed when he saw Keith Richards and Ronnie Wood light up on stage in defiance of the venue’s no-smoking policy. He sent police to halt the show at Madison Square Garden – but officers ended up watching the show and failed to catch the band afterwards.

In Saudi Arabia and Iran, there are severe punishments for drinking or possessing alcohol and, in many other countries, public drunkeness carries the risk of arrest.

Although nudity on many Greek beaches is fairly common, taking your clothes off in public is, officially, illegal. Jemma Gunning was fined $2,500 for baring her breasts in a nightclub. Kerrie-Ann Pritchard was offered a $4,000 fine or seven months in prison for baring her bottom at police.

In Madagascar it is illegal for pregnant women to wear hats or eat eels.

In Arizona it is illegal to hunt camels

In Minnesota it is illegal to hang male and female undergarments alongside each other on a clothesline.

In Kansas a little-known law states “When trains meet at a crossing, both shall come to a full stop and neither shall proceed until the other has gone”

In Uruguay duelling is illegal, unless both participants are registered blood donors when it is encouraged.