Government & Law

10 funny, outdated, and weird laws in France

France, like many countries, has its fair share of weird laws. And as you’d expect from the French, a few involve kissing, snails, and of course Napoleon.

Weird laws in France

By Expatica

Updated 9-1-2024

Of France’s 15,500 or so laws, there are quite a few that would raise an eyebrow (sometimes two). Clearly, someone simply forgot to adjust those harking back to the Middle Ages – but it is doubtful you’ll get in trouble for not having a spare bale of hay in case the King rides by your farm. Other weird laws scream “triggered!”, and it’s funny to discover what anecdote gave birth to the kookiest French ordinances. What’s not as humorous, though, is how many weird laws in France still infringe on women’s rights.

Let’s go over the 10 weirdest French laws, to make sure you don’t get caught with your pants down (especially if you’re a woman: you shouldn’t get caught with your pants up either!) They all underline what a good spring cleaning French law really needs.

1. Snails must have their own ticket on French trains

Snails on a train! While it sounds like the French remake of the infamous movie starring Samuel L. Jackson, it turns out it’s just a reminder that animals weighing less than five kilos must travel with their own ticket. That includes the French’s favorite breakfast treat, as a non-plussed Frenchman found out in 2008 while transporting his snail harvest on the TGV.

Find out how many snails the French consume per year in our guide to French cuisine.

2. You can’t name your pig Napoléon

If it turns out Napoleon wasn’t in fact ridiculously short, he sure acted like he had a complex. It was illegal to make fun of him, including specifically to name your pig after him. That weird 19th-century law is still in effect today in France. So, you can call your pig whatever you like, but certainly not Napoléon. Ironically, did you know that Napoléon is the ruler who established today’s French civil code?

3. Don’t kiss in a French train station

The SNCF (French railways) got tired of the delays caused by couples kissing their farewells on platforms. Thus was born this weird French law that prohibits making out once the train has pulled up to the station. No worries, you probably won’t get arrested – or even scolded – for frenching your goodbyes in Gare du Nord. However, you may get so distracted that you’ll miss your train.

weird french kissing law

Find out more about the SNCF in our guide to French public transportation. If you’re curious about greeting customs in Europe, check out our article on public displays of affection.

4. Women who want to dress like a man must first ask the police

French women are known for their feminine fashion sense, but it’s not due to this outdated law from the 19th century. However, it’s never been taken out of the law books. Officially, if you’d like to wear a pantsuit, you must get authorization from the nearest precinct, as well as a medical certificate. Another weird law that frowns upon women wearing pants in France states that the only exception is when they’re riding a bike or a horse.

5. You must listen to French music

As a last-ditch attempt to put the brakes on America’s cultural imperialism, the French passed a law in 1994 that insists that 40% of music played on French radio stations must be by French artists.

weird law french music
Yvette Horner

Adopted in the hope to promote and preserve French culture and language, the law proved to be very unpopular. Thus the French music quota was decreased to 35% in 2016. Radio stations that specialize in foreign music were also granted an exception. They are only obligated to play 15% of Charles Trenet and Yvette Horner.

6. Don’t let the kids have ketchup

Since 2011, a law forbids school cafeterias from serving ketchup. This strange law is apparently the result of a crusade by Christopher Hebert, the president of the Association nationale des directeurs de la restauration municipale. We’re not sure what the guy really holds against ketchup, whose ingredients (tomatoes, vinegar, sugar) are not even unhealthy, except maybe for yet another anti-American sentiment.

This said, no self-respecting French person would accept ketchup anywhere near their Boeuf Bourguignon.

7. You have to say bonjour

While it’s just a local ordinance, this weird law from a small town in the North of France merits its place here. After an angry local resident forgot his manners with a civil servant in 2011, the local council of Lhéraule decided to adopt the decree. It states you’ll promptly and unceremoniously get thrown out of the town hall if you don’t use the proper civilities such as “hello” and “thank you”.

8. You can write a check on toilet paper

Your banker probably won’t take it, but your check doesn’t need to come out of your checkbook. French financial law states that you can write it on literally any blank piece of paper of your choosing, as long as it contains all the relevant information.

weird checkbook french law
When you’re really broke

Honestly though, it’s time to switch to mobile banking.

9. You can divorce your husband if he watches too much football

It’s not that strange of a law as it appears at first glance. As you can divorce your partner on grounds of infidelity, there is also such a thing as intellectual infidelity. If your spouse spends way too many hours watching games on the tube and hurling insults at PSG (or OL, depending on where you live), you can call it quits.

Another unexpected legal ground for divorce is physical infidelity – not in the sexual sense, but rather physical integrity. For example, if your wife smokes like a chimney and puts your health at risk, you are allowed to pack your bags in search of fresh air.

10. You can’t get drunk at work, unless it’s on wine

This funny law is just… so French. Obviously, you can’t drink at work! Well yes, you can. As long as it’s wine, beer, cider or hydromel. Of course you can’t get plastered, but if you’re celebrating Jean’s retirement, you can do so (responsibly) as long as you’re not doing tequila shots on his desk.

See our guide to French wines for inspiration.

Find out more about French shenanigans in our article on 30 interesting things about France, including the law that allows you to, not see, but marry dead people.