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7 strange laws from around the world

A young person playing pinball
Image: cottonbro studio / Pexels

It was Mr Bumble of Oliver Twist fame who said, ‘The law is a ass – a idiot'. He was objecting to the idea that, in the eyes of the law, a husband is responsible for the actions of his wife. But, peculiar as that supposition is, it’s rivalled in strangeness by some other laws that are still in existence today.

1. Under-18s can’t play pinball in South Carolina

This regulation may finally be on its way out but as recently as 2023, people in South Carolina were voicing their irritation over a law banning kids from playing pinball. The regulation dates back to the days of old, when pinball was associated with gambling and general delinquency.

Speaking to the local media in early 2023, the owner of a games arcade called Josh Rainwater bluntly said, ‘We are willingly breaking this law’, while politician Todd Rutherford stated that he was drafting a bill to remove the ban from the books. On the plus side, Josh Rainwater also said that the revelation of this quirky law had ‘put pinball on the map’ as far as the local kids were concerned.

2. You mustn’t handle fish suspiciously in Britain

Is there really a British law against ‘handling fish in suspicious circumstances’? There is. It’s not some weird holdover from the medieval period – the regulation is actually part of the Salmon Act of 1986. The wording originally stipulated salmon only, before it was expanded to fish in general.

Disappointingly, the law is more sensible than it sounds at first glance, having to do with catching people who may have been illegally fishing or handling poached fish. But there’s no denying the wording of the law has a kind of Monty Python-esque ring to it.

3. You can’t shine a light within five kilometres of the king’s bedroom in the Palace of Versailles

In 2022, a very curious French law was back in the news thanks to the superb performance of football underdogs FC Versailles 78. Then a fourth-tier team, they reached the semi-finals of the Coupe de France (the country’s equivalent of the FA Cup) for the first time in their history but were unable to play this decisive game on their home turf.

That’s because the club’s stadium, the Stade Montbauron, has no floodlights, making nighttime games impossible. And that’s due to the proximity of the lavish Palace of Versailles, and a reported law dating back to the time of Louis XIV, who banned any light sources within five kilometres of his bedroom.

There’s also the matter of the desire to maintain the integrity of the palace as a UNESCO World Heritage site by having no tall structures erected close by, but we’ll go ahead and blame the dead king for the fact that FC Versailles went on to lose the semi-final away match.

4. You can’t call your child Messi in Rosario, Argentina

Here’s another football-related oddity. In Rosario, Argentina, anyone wishing to name their child Messi, after the city’s most famous son Lionel Messi, will technically be breaking a regulation dating back to 2014, when it was reported that ‘officials of the civil registry’ had ‘forbidden by law’ the use of Messi as a first name.

This seems to have been an attempt by the authorities to curtail what they expected to be a flood of babies named after the football legend, triggered by the news that an Argentine man had called his son Messi.

5. Beached whales and sturgeons in Britain must be offered to the monarch

The ‘superior excellence’ of sturgeons and whales means they have been classified as ‘royal fish’, and any caught or beached in the nation must be officially offered to the reigning monarch. Going back to the time of Edward II, the rule caused a bit of a fuss for the owners of a hotel in Cornwall in 2014, when they bought a sturgeon which had been caught in local waters.

Before daring to serve it, one of the hotel owners dutifully rang Buckingham Palace to notify the Queen of the catch. She was told that the fish would be ‘gratefully received’ by the palace, and so – much to the pride and delight of the locals – it was packed in ice and sent off on a train to London.

6. You must smile at all times in Milan (maybe)

Is there really a law that says you have to constantly smile when you’re in Milan unless you happen to be at a funeral or working in a hospital? This is one of those zany, alleged laws that pop up on lots of internet lists and sounds too perfectly weird to be true.

Well, its provenance is certainly on the iffy side, to say the least. We do know it’s been reported in at least one Italian newspaper that such a law was indeed ordained in the 19th century, in a bid to ‘give prominence to the city of Milan’. But even though it might be an urban myth, we had to include it here in honour of how bizarre it is.

7. You can’t gamble in Monaco casinos if you’re from Monaco

And finally, a curious prohibition in Monaco forbids any citizens who were born in Monaco from gambling at its world-famous casinos. In fact, they can’t even set foot on the gambling floors – a rule dating back to the 19th century, designed to preserve morality among the native-born people of the area.