One of the best parts about travel is exposing yourself to the unfamiliar — such as strange customs or foods. By going outside of our individual comfort zones, we not only get to know the world better, but also ourselves. Just as Mark Twain once wrote: “…nothing so liberalizes a man and expands the kindly instincts that nature put in him as travel and contact with many kinds of people.”
But what about unusual laws? Whether travelers are stuffing Osprey backpacks for a bit of hosteling or packing Louis Vuitton suitcases for some five-star resorting, the last thing on their minds are the laws peculiar to where they are heading.
Most countries today follow one of two major legal traditions: common law or civil law. The common law tradition emerged in England during the Middle Ages and was applied throughout British colonies worldwide. The civil law tradition developed in continental Europe at the same time and was applied in the colonies of European imperial powers such as Spain and Portugal.
Regardless of legal tradition, there are some oddball laws out there that you probably haven’t heard about. Here are some the of weirdest we could find:
The Law: It is unlawful to step on the Thai baht.
The Context: Thailand may be a constitutional monarchy, but the Thai people venerate their king, Bhumibol Adulyadej, almost as if he were a deity. King Adulyadej’s picture also happens to be on every piece of the country’s currency. Put two-and-two together, and you can see why it’s a big no-no to put your boot on the baht. Punishment for this transgression can be anything from a severe beating to serious jail time. If you ever elect to visit Thailand, be sure to watch your step.
The Law: It is legal to marry a dead person.
The Context: This one is actually more reasonable than it sounds. Called “posthumous marriage,” it originated in the 1950s when a dam broke and killed 400 people in Fréjus, France, including a man named André Capra, who was engaged to Iréne Jodart. Jodart lobbied French President Charles De Gaulle to let her continue with her marriage plans even though her fiancé had passed away. Thanks to the media’s support, her wish was eventually granted and she was allowed to marry her fiancé. Today, anyone in France who wants to file for posthumous marriage sends a request to the President of France, who forwards it to the Justice Minister, who then forwards it to the prosecutor for the surviving member’s district. If the couple had originally planned on getting married and the family of the deceased approves, the prosecutor sends the application back to the President. Remarkably, only one out of every four applicants for posthumous marriage is rejected.
The Law: It is illegal to unjustly vex someone.
The Context: Sticks and stones may break bones, but words can result in a civil lawsuit in this island nation. According to the Civil Code of the Philippines, “every person shall respect the dignity, personality, privacy and peace of mind of his neighbors and other persons.” Fair enough. Nobody likes a bully.
The law elaborates with specific illegal acts:
(1) Prying into the privacy of another’s residence;
(2) Meddling with or disturbing the private life or family relations of another;
(3) Intriguing to cause another to be alienated from his friends;
(4) Vexing or humiliating another on account of his religious beliefs, lowly station in life, place of birth, physical defect, or other personal condition.
While this sounds vague and arbitrary, at least it could give us all grounds to sue any reality television star ever.
The Law: It is illegal to forget your wife’s birthday.
The Context: We honestly could not track down the historical context of this one, but trust that it is for real. Perhaps the law exists to protect men, considering the strong correlation between forgotten birthdays and dead husbands. After all, it’s tough to say which is worse: the jail house or the dog house.
The Law: All males over the age of 14 must be trained in shooting a longbow.
The Context: While it might sound more at home on a list of “The World’s Most Awesome Laws,” this Middle Ages holdover requires all abled-body British men to be ready to battle the bloody French with one of the coolest weapons of all time. Because the Hundred Years’ War only ended 600 years ago…
The Law: It is unlawful to sell non-medical chewing gum or to chew normal gum.
The Context: Anyone who has visited this prosperous city-state knows there is only one context; because, Singapore. The first time you are caught with unauthorized chewing gum, you face a fine of $1000. A second offense costs $2000 and a day spent cleaning a public area of the city. If a person litters three times, they must clean the streets wearing a bib that reads “I’m a litterer.” Even pharmacists who sell medical gum and forget to ID can get two years in jail. Before we judge the Singaporean authorities too harshly, perhaps we should consider that they may just be trying to protect us from Temporomandibular Joint Disorder, tooth damage, and gastrointestinal problems — common side-effects of too much chewing.
PLEASE NOTE: If you’re chewing and feel like you’re about to get caught, whatever you do, do not spit it out! This also can get you arrested.
What weird laws or regulations have you learned about during your travels? Let us know in the comments section!