As Al Murray, Pub Landlord once quipped, "Where would we be without laws? France". A framework of legal guidelines that prevent people from just walking into your house, stealing your fruit and murdering your family when the whim takes them, is the most important aspect of living in a progressive, workable society. That said, have you ever stopped and looked at some of the laws that are still enforceable today? It's fair to say that a lot of them look like utter madness to the casual observer.
Mr.Bumble famously declared the law to be an a** in Oliver Twist. An astonishing number of edicts and acts were passed into law hundreds of years ago and, archaic though they now may be, have never repealed. There are laws that you possibly break every day - and some you would have to spend a lot of time and money planning a way to break - without even realizing. For UK readers, a surprising amount of these involve cows.
Of course, it isn't just laws buried in obscure amendments that seem silly today. There have been many laws passed in recent years that seem odd or downright silly to the rest of the world. From a country where you are legally obligated to destroy entire villages, to a US state that has very specific rules for your sex life, here are ten of the daftest laws still legally enforceable at the time of writing.
10 The Land Of The Sumo Hates On Fat People
If you ask Westerners to think about something that is synonymous with Japan, they probably come up with the same assortment of images: smiling, unflinchingly polite people, sushi, manga cartoons and the excellent rock band, Tricot. More than any other, the first thing that will come to mind is a huge, overweight gentleman in a nappy. However, the land of the sumo wrestler doesn't stop at merely discouraging their citizens to put on weight - they have actually made it illegal to do so.
A law passed in 2008, called the metabo law, actually made it illegal for citizens aged between 40 to 75 - accounting for 44% of the population - to let their waistbands expand beyond a certain limit. This is set at 33.5-35.4 inches (85-90 cm) for both men and women. Failure to comply sees the individual attending mandatory counselling sessions and, scarily, face motoring through their emails and phone correspondence.
The law was part of a programme aimed at reducing health problems in an ageing population. Employers have to sign up to enforce the law, too. Companies who fail to meet targets regarding the percentage of overweight employees are fined up to 10% of their current health payments. Though there is doubt as to the effectiveness of the law, it should be noted that Japan's current obesity population stands at 3% - the lowest amongst developed countries.
9 Liverpudlian Men Probably Shop In Fish Stores A Lot
Though it may come as a shock to anybody who has seen a Brit abroad, jiggling naked down the market places of unfortunate Mediterranean towns whilst covered in body paint and drunk as a lord, the UK is generally prudish when it comes to nudity. Most Englishmen will put on a stiff upper lip at the sight of naked flesh, adjust their cravat and bury their head in their copy of The Times. Luckily, local by-laws in the North-Western city of Liverpool have catered for a healthy balance between befuddled gentlemen and peeping toms.
Not only is the city the birthplace of The Beatles, but it is also a fine University town with its seat of education established hundreds of years ago. To preserve the innocence of young students, public nudity was banned with one exception - it is legal for a woman to be topless only if she is working as a clerk in a tropical fish store.
The specifics of the law are baffling - does this count as discrimination against workers in pet stores that only sell furry critters? While there is no word on whether or not this archaic law still sees Liverpudlian women needing far less uniform than everybody else, it will be interesting to see figures of how many Scouse men regularly lurk in the shadows of tropical fish stores today, insistent that they're 'just perusing the selection of Angel Fish'.
8 Game Over For Greeks
The Greeks have had a tough time of things over the past decade or so. The global economical crash of 2008 hit them hard, with the country yet to recover. IMF loans have not been repaid, unemployment is disastrously high and their relationship with the Eurozone is like that of a married couple who loath each other but can't afford to divorce.
The Greek youth, hardest hit by the rise in unemployment, desperately needed some form of entertainment to keep their minds from the vortex of despair. Whatever they managed to find to occupy themselves, it certainly wasn't Playstations - the government had long since made them illegal. The law was first passed in 2002 and aimed at banning all electronic games in internet cafes in order to control online gambling. However, they soon extended this to cover all electronic games.
The Greeks just can't seem to catch a break. They can't even play something as archaic and low-tech as Snake. When you look at the bigger picture, it may not be too much of an impingement upon civil rights after all - in six months time, who would even be able to afford the electricity to play them on?
7 Flatulent Floridians' Farts Facilitate Frowns
We've all been there - anybody who says they haven't should be mistrusted immediately and cut out of your life for good. You're out on a date with a gorgeous woman or handsome guy and you suddenly regret having the mussels for starters. Your bowel is protesting furiously and you need to relieve the pressure. But look at the queue for the toilets! Your conversation is nowhere near witty or charming enough to be able to release gas and laugh it off and so you pinch your butt cheeks together, sweat dripping from your brow and a tear forming in your eye.
This is what Floridians call 'Thursday Evening'. State laws prohibit farting after 6pm on a Thursday. Just on Thursdays, mind - presumably it's perfectly acceptable to waddle around DisneyWorld on the other six days of the week, cocking your leg and making motorcycle revving noises like the common beast of the fields that you are. Questions surely arise at the sheer mechanics of regulating this law and which poor rookie on the police force has to investigate potential offenders.
Nobody can quite explain why or when the law came to pass, but it surely has to harm sales of beans and burritos in the Sunshine State. If you're planning a trip to Florida, stay away from these and similarly flatulence-aiding foodstuff on a Thursday - and have a gas mask ready for midnight.
6 Drunk Brits Warned Away From Cows
Brits tend to have a complicated relationship with cows. On one hand, they are a source of the most delicious of meats plus dairy treats such as milk and cheese; on the other hand, they are inherently amusing to look at and make a sound like a lonely ghost falling down a stairwell. A creature that both looks and sounds funny is catnip for drunk people, hence the common past-time for idiot teenagers known as cow-tipping. The British Licensing Act of 1872 clearly had this in mind when they drafted the bill.
Section 12 clearly states that it is illegal to operate a cow while intoxicated. The mind does boggle slightly at the implications of "operating a cow". Does it refer to milking? Because it would be fair to say that the first ever guy who looked at a cow's udders and decided to tug at them and see what happened had probably consumed a skinful first.
The rest of the section goes on to explain that, as with steam engines, horses and carriages, it's actually illegal to operate a cow "whilst on a public highway or place". It does seem to be a sensible law, albeit a highly archaic one which probably doesn't bother the courts of Wales too much nowadays. The punishment for riding Daisy down the M1 after one too many pear ciders is a fine and/or a month in prison.
5 Hong Kong Adulterers Are Especially Nervous
In most countries, the worst an adulterer can expect in retaliation is a shredded wardrobe, revenge cheating or a long-winded Facebook rant about what a truly appalling person they are. Any painful and long-lasting physical damage is utterly against the law. A cheating husband may earn a well-deserved knee to the groin but, hey, it's not like their wife can kill them, right? Right?
Wrong. If you're a resident of Hong Kong, you'd better run fast and far, because it is perfectly lawful for a wife to murder her cheating spouse. There's only one caveat: she must commit the deed with just her bare hands, no weapons allowed because that would just be plain unfair. Even more harshly, the wife can also murder his mistress in any way she sees fit and claim ownership of half of her possessions, no matter who it originally belonged to. The food news is that spurned Hong Kong wives are still largely opting to sue their priapic husbands - although some have taken advantage of the law and tried to beat Hubby to death. It truly is a terrifying world we live in.
4 Britain Bans Polish Potatoes
Everybody loves spuds. You can fry them, roast them, make them into cakes and even stick buttons and a small hat on them to create an amusing toy for your underwhelmed offspring. The Irish even make them into a ridiculously strong whiskey called Poteen, which is like drinking a liquid death wish. You can do anything with potatoes, unless you live in England and Wales, where the law prevents you from doing one thing with them: importing them from Poland.
The Polish Potatoes (Notification) (England) Order 2004 outlaws the importation of potatoes "suspected to be from Poland" and also the 'processing' of said veg, which refers to industrial treatment such as grading, sorting, washing or packing. Anybody wishing to import Polish potatoes has to have written permission from a Plant Health Inspector two days in advance of the importation date.
While the law was originally passed to combat the spread of ring rot, it is a curious - though not uncommon - oversight on behalf of law-makers to allow this law to remain in effect today. Though there doesn't seem to be much interest amongst the organized crime fraternity for running a black market in illegal spuds, the issue may provoke some of the more far-right nationalists to wonder aloud why these potatoes are "coming into our country, stealing plate space meant for British spuds".
3 Put That Salmon Down, Limey!
When motions are carried through the Houses of Parliament in the UK and are voted on to become laws, it is a fair bet that a significant proportion of them are tabled just before lunchtime; There are enough rules and regulations concerning food to suspect that MPs will vote for anything to help them get to the canteen and fill their rumbling bellies quicker.
Salmon fishing is a hugely popular pastime amongst British fishermen and there are swathes of rules and regulations concerning the tasty red-fleshed fish. Illegal possession and trading in salmon can see heavy fines and jail terms for anybody caught contravening them. Paranoia about salmon misuse seemed to be at an all-time high in 1986. Rather than concern themselves with the ongoing threat of the Cold War, or the emerging threat of misery-fest soap opera Eastenders, UK politicians passed the Salmon Act, which went as far as making illegal "the suspicious handling of salmon".
Not only was it a criminal offence to poach and distribute the beasts, but woe betide the unfortunate miscreant who was caught holding a salmon in circumstances that could be considered...fishy.
2 Massachusetts Cowgirls Can't Saddle Up
Women have had a rough deal throughout the centuries. Banned from voting in some countries, banned from revealing flesh in others and generally taken for granted and abused by idiotic men who hold all of the power and none of the principles. It's the 21st century now - surely things have progressed in the equality stakes? Nope, not a lot - especially if you're unlucky enough to wear breasts in the state of Massachusetts.
Purveyors of 'unnatural and lascivious acts' in the state can face fines and up to five years imprisonment. While the law seems at first to be a disgraceful assault on the gay community, take a closer look at what Massachusetts deems to be unnatural and lascivious. While the state is in favour of close encounters, it's only of the boring kind - women are not allowed to be on top during intercourse.
While the law is hilariously dumb and unenforceable - do the police come a-knocking when the walls are a-rocking, just to double-check nothing too naughty is going on? - it remains a sad indictment of the mentality of attitudes towards women and equality in general.
1 Singapore Gum-Chewers Risk Humiliation
Singapore is one of the cleanest places in the world to visit. They installed a shiny new underground system in 1992 and, 23 years on, it remains shiny. The streets are clean, the people pure. There is an excellent reason for this: the fastidious government of Singapore will show you an almighty world of pain if you break their infamously strict litter laws.
Spitting on the street is illegal and can result in a fine. The same applies to littering and vandalism, crimes that can result in you being made to wear a green vest and clean the streets, or be stripped naked and judiciously flogged. Sales of p*rnography is fineable, as is watching Sex And The City - so it's not all bad. One thing that everybody assumes is illegal is the purchase of chewing gum, but this isn't strictly true.
While it isn't strictly illegal to carry chewing gum, the sale of the product is prohibited and gum-traffickers (really) can be fined $49,000 and face two years in prison for a first offence. Dropping chewing gum or sticking it to a surface counts as vandalism and is illegal, with offenders likely to receive a S$100 fine and, if you're male and under 50, a good flogging. You're best off sticking to Tic Tacs.