Fifteen of the most bizarre laws in France


There’s no doubt France, like most countries, has its own share of seemingly crazy laws and decrees.

Indeed until recently legislation existed in France that banned Parisian women from wearing trousers unless they were riding a bike or a horse. In the name of égalité that law was only scrapped a few years ago, but plenty of other bizarre ones still exist.

1. It is illegal to carry live snails on a French high-speed train, unless they have a ticket

A Frenchman was fined in 2008 when a ticket inspector caught him carrying the snails on board a TGV. Turns out any domesticated animal under five kilos must be a paying passenger. France’s state-owned rail company SNCF, perhaps out of love for the tasty snail, ended up waiving the fine.

2. It is illegal to fly over or land flying saucers in the southern French town of Chateauneuf-du-Pape

The town’s forward-thinking leaders passed a municipal decree in 1954 that is still on the books, and upheld as recently as this week. It appears the law was a creative marketing campaign, the son of the former mayor has said. The town is known worldwide for its strange anti-UFO legislation.

3. Illegal to kiss whilst train is at the platform

This old law was apparently introduced at the request of rail chiefs in order to prevent the amorous French from delaying the departure of trains. All kissing on the platform must be done before the train arrives.

4. It is illegal to have unlimited, self-service ketchup in French school cafeterias

In 2011 French authorities banned it, along with unlimited mayonnaise and vinaigrette salad dressing, in an effort to promote healthy eating among kids. However, the red stuff can still be served with certain meals, such as chips. France is renowned for being a health conscious nanny state, even though a study this week found that one in two French people over the age of 30 are overweight (and one in six are obese). 

5. French law requires that 40 percent of the music played on private radio stations must be of French origin 

Since 1996 the country’s top media regulator the Conseil Supérieur de L’Audiovisuel has been charged with enforcing the rule. CSA also demands that half of the French music required by the quota be less than six months old.

6. Pig owners can’t call their cochons Napoleon 

This appears to be more myth than reality but worth including anyway. Former emperor Napoleon apparently introduced this law to avoid him being the subject of mockery.

7. A mayoral decree in the tiny northern French village of Lhéraule obliges a minimum level of politeness in the Town Hall 

The rules say you can be tossed off the premises if you don’t use basic social graces like “hello”, “thank you” and “good bye”. Local leaders adopted the decree after a terse taxpayer disrespected a civil servant in 2011. 

8. It is illegal to drink any alcohol at work, except wine, beer, cider, pear cider and a fermented honey drink called hydromel 

So that means pretty much every French company that has served anything else at a pot de depart (leaving drink) was breaking the law. However, the rules also say bosses have to send workers home when they are drunk, so please consume with moderation.

9. It is legal to marry a dead person 

This law stems back to when a dam burst in 1959 and killed 420 people in southern France. A pregnant woman who lost her fiancé was so upset that former President Charles de Gaulle penned a law allowing them to be married. However, the authorities require proof the couple planned to marry before one of them died.

10. It’s legal for French parents to prevent their adult children from getting married 

Under a law that dates back to Napoléon Bonaparte’s days, the rule says parents can file a statement of opposition for any reason. This actually happened in 2010 when a Frenchman’s family stepped in to block his marriage to a Chinese woman the parents believed was seeking to protect her immigration status.

11. Everyone must have a bail of hay at home

In case the French king passes with his horse… Now given there are no longer French kings and the current president does not travel by horse, this old law is pretty defunct. But always good to know these things.  

12. You can write a cheque on toilet paper… or any kind of paper 

Unless your bank manager refuses to accept it. Which they he probably will to be fair. But you would be within your rights to point out that you don’t actually need a cheque book.

13. French law allows you to be divorced if you smoke too much or are too interested in football

France’s legal code obliges spouses to be faithful and if they aren’t it is grounds for divorce. However, infidelity can also be “intellectual” as well as physical meaning excessive smoking, playing too much football, spending too much time with the local bishop and phone sex, can all be grounds for divorce. 

14. A woman needs permission from the police to dress like a man

So that’s why Parisian women still wear skirts and high heels in winter, they just can’t face going to the prefecture de police to ask permission to wear jeans.

15. Bins and ashtrays are lethal weapons in Paris 

At least that’s according to the penal code in France. So let’s all give thanks to the rubbish collectors whose job is clearly up there with bomb disposal units in terms of danger.