Did you know serving ketchup at schools – the ‘incarnation of Americanism’ – is banned, as is calling a pig Napoleon. Find out more weird, strange and funny French laws that exist today.
France, like many countries, has its fair share of seemingly strange and funny laws, many of which are extremely outdated but still in existence, like the one where you can’t name your pig Napoleon.
To be exact, France has about 15,500 laws, 127,000 decrees, 7,400 treaties, and 17,000 EU laws. Some date back to the Middle Ages, some are from the time of the French Revolution and others are more recent.
Most of France’s laws were put into effect for good reason – at the time – and some stay valid indefinitely. Unless someone removes these antiquated and outdated laws, they remain perfectly legal – albeit no one ever really enforces them, for example, the law that says women can only wear pants if they are riding a bike or holding horse reigns.
But then there are more recent laws that were put into effect that still seem downright weird. Here you can find a list of 11 French laws of both types: weird current laws and funny outdated laws.
1. No person may address or name their pig Napoleon
You can name your pig anything including Mary Antoinette or Francois Holland – the French president – but thanks to a nineteenth-century French law created to prevent pranksters from making fun of the then emperor, Napoleon, today you cannot call your pig Napoléon in France.
2. It is legal to marry a dead person in France
Also called a posthumous marriage, the practice of allowing someone to marry a dead person is alive and well (no pun intended) in France. Don’t get too excited, though. This is not a loophole for you to gain French citizenship by marrying a dead French person because there are certain conditions that need to be met:
- The dead person had to have had the intention of marrying the alive person before their death and you need to prove it.
- There needs to be serious grounds for the marriage.
- The president of France must approve the marriage.
If you meet all the criteria then the marriage would be back-dated to the day before the bride or groom died.
The practice of marrying a dead person is also allowed in China and Sudan under certain circumstances.
3. All French citizens must have a haystack, in case the king passes by with his horse
This is one of those old French laws that probably made sense when kings rode on horses and in carriages but today it just seems silly. There is no longer an official king in France, and if there were he would drive.
4. All women who wish to dress like a man must ask for authorisation at the nearest police station
Around 1800, a law was put in place to prevent women from dressing like men. Not only did women need to get authorisation from the nearest police precinct but they needed a medical certificate as well. Don’t worry ladies, you will never get arrested for wearing trousers – but the fact that this law still exists is something to question.
5. It’s illegal to take photos of police officers or police vehicles, even in the background
I took the below photo in Marseille of two police officers on these stand-up bikes. Should I be worried because not only did I take a photo of the French police officers but I took a picture of their vehicles as well?
6. Unless a woman is holding the reigns of a horse or riding a bike, she is not allowed to wear pants
A very antiquated law that still exists today in France despite several attempts to get it off the legislative books. What is weird is that many French and European women actually wear a skirt on a bike, even I have done it a few times.
On the other end of the spectrum in America, there was a Dutch woman who was approached by a New York police officer who threatened to ticket her for wearing a skirt while riding a bike. He claimed the amount of skin she was showing was too distracting. Oh la la. He had better stop a lot of people because it was not revealing in my books. Weird.
7. Between the hours of 8am and 8pm, 70 percent of music played on French radio stations must be by French artists
This explains so much. When I first arrived in France, it used to annoy me how I would hear the same music over and over throughout the day. But the mystery is solved: they do it because it is the law.
This law was adopted to promote and preserve French musical culture and the French language. The French language police claim that the younger generation tends to listen to too much American and British culture.
8. Since 2011, a French law has banned primary school cafeterias in France from serving Ketchup to students
Apparently this rule was put into place thanks to Christopher Hebert, the president of the national association of municipal catering managers. The weird thing about this rule is that it was not put into place for health reasons – otherwise mayonnaise might have been taken off the menu as well – but because Monsieur Hebert thought that every spoonful of ketchup was like eating the ‘incarnation of Americanism’.
9. It is illegal to kiss on or at the train stations in France
This law prohibiting love birds from kissing at the train station was put in place by the Société du Chemin de fer (train companies) to avoid delays. I suppose they thought people kissing at train stations would be so distracted that they might totally miss the huge, loud trains.
I kiss my hubby at the train station and I have also seen French people kissing at the train station so I doubt this one is really enforced. But can you imagine getting arrested for kissing at the train station?
10. No alcohol whatsoever is allowed in a place of work, except for beer, wine, cidre and poiré
How can the French stand this law? It is so strict – not! This is the official rule, of course, although I don’t think the French really mind because most French people drink wine anyway.
11. You cannot wear swim trunks or board shorts in public pools
I am not sure if this is an actual law or just an enforced rule. In the four years I have lived in France, not one single public French pool I have been to allowed board shorts or loose swim trunks. Instead, men must wear what my husband Blake likes to call ‘nut-huggers’ and what many north Americans like to call Speedos. I think this explains why so many French people wear swimming trunks at the beach instead of board shorts.
Women are also victim to this rule and must not wear anything loose in the pool, such as a t-shirt, which i suppose I can understand but sometimes the ‘pool authorities’ (as I like to call them) take this rule too far. I once wore a rash guard – one of those tight-fitting synthetic swimming shirts that surfers typically wear – and was told it was not allowed for safety reasons.
As the French like to say, C’est la vie!
Annie André moved to the south of France with her husband and three children in 2010 for a one-year family gap year that turned into a five-plus-years adventure. She shares what she’s learned about the process of moving to France and gives tips on surviving French culture on her blog AnnieAndre.com. Photo credits: © Annie André. Point one corrected by Expatica.