I have a fascination with the strange, unusual and sometimes macabre so I thought it would be fun to research some French laws that were a little on the strange or funny side.
What I found were hundreds of articles with regurgitated misinformation.
For instance, there are countless articles which claim the existence of a French law which specifically says it’s “illegal to name your pig Napoleon in France”.
The law just doesn’t exist!!!
If the Napoleon naming law does exist, I couldn’t find any official evidence of it and excluded it and many others like it from my list.
21 weird, strange, crazy, funny and unusual French laws and why they exist
I’ve researched and fact-checked all the laws on this list however, I’m only human. If you think something is incorrect, please let me know (via my contact page) but be sure to provide me with links to reliable resources because it’s just too easy to say something is false without any proof.
1) It’s perfectly legal to marry a dead person in France
If you meet certain requirements
Every year, there are a handful of posthumous marriages in France, one of the few countries where it’s actually legal to marry a dead person thanks to article 171 of the Civil Code .
Don’t get too excited though. This isn’t some loophole to gain French citizenship by marrying a dead French person. There are certain conditions that need to be met and the process can be long.
- You need to prove that the deceased person had the intention of marrying you.
- There needs to be serious grounds for the marriage.
- The president of France must approve the marriage.
Once you meet all the requirements, the marriage will be backdated to the day before the bride or groom died.
Pictured above: Magali married Jonathan in 2009, one year after he died in a car accident. They had lived together for six years and had 2 young children together.
Pictured above: In 2017, French police officer Xavier Jugelé married his deceased partner who was killed by a gunman on the Champs Elysees in April 2017. They had been living together prior to his partner’s death.
History of posthumous marriages in France
Posthumous marriages have existed in France since the First World War. Initially, the law was created for pregnant widows whose husbands died in combat.
The idea was to legitimize the children born out of wedlock.
It wasn’t until 1959, following a disaster, the law changed after a dam burst killing over 400 people in southern France. President Charles de Gaulle allowed a grieving pregnant woman to marry her dead fiancé, who had been killed in the accident.
The practice of marrying a dead person is also allowed in China and Sudan under certain circumstances. Good luck with that!
2) It was illegal for women to wear pants in Paris until 2013
In today’s day and age, it’s crazy to think women wearing trousers was taboo or too risqué. There were even laws dictated how a woman could dress. Always modestly of course and usually imposed as a way to keep women in their place.
Times have changed but did you know as recent as 2013, there was an archaic 214-year-old law from 1799 (although no longer enforced) which banned women in Paris from dressing like a man –that is to say, wearing trousers!
The decree was passed following the French Revolution when the working class French revolutionary rebels refused to wear aristocratic britches (worn by nobility and the wealthy bourgeoisie), instead choosing to wear long trousers- known as the “sans-culottes” movement (without britches).
The decree focused on Paris because women rebels in the movement demanded the right to wear trousers as well. Banning women from wearing trousers was symbolically like barring women from the revolution and keeping women in their place.
The decree of the Dubois police prefecture No. 22 of 16 Brumaire year IX (November 17, 1800) stipulated that “any woman wishing to dress as a man must go to the police headquarters to obtain permission”
The Paris trouser ban was amended twice a century after it was created.
- Around 1892 women were allowed to wear trousers if holding the “reins of a horse”
- Around 1909 women were allowed to wear trousers if “riding a bike and holding handlebars”.
Finally, in 2013 the outdated law was repealed, the result of decades’ of feminist lobby groups.
If you think about it, the invention of the bicycle has done more for women’s rights than most people realise.
3- 40% of the music played on French radio stations MUST be played in the French language
The French language police are always going on about how the younger generations are being influenced by American and British culture.
In an attempt to promote and preserve French music culture and the French language, “le Conseil Supérieur de L’Audiovisuel” imposed French music quotas on radio stations.
A minimum of 40% of the songs played must be in the French language and 50% of those songs must be new productions.
The only problem with this quota is more and more French artists are singing in English, creating a diminishing supply of French songs. Radio stations end up repeating the same handful of songs just to meet the minimum French music quotas.
The quota was based on The Toubon Law of 1994, which was modelled after a similar law in Quebec.
4- No alcohol allowed in a place of work in France (except for Beer, Wine, Cider and Poiré)
It’s perfectly reasonable that there is a French law which prohibits alcoholic beverages at a place of work.
What’s strange or funny about the current law are the exceptions.
Article R4228-20 of the labour code stipulates that only beer, wine, cider and poiré (a colourless pear brandy) are allowed in the workplace.
5- Ketchup is pretty much banned in school cafeterias in France (kind of sort of)
There’s a rumour going around the internet, dubbed “The French ketchup law” which claims Ketchup is banned from school cafeterias in France.
Sorry but it’s just not true!
Ketchup has not been banned however it has been restricted along with Mayonnaise.
In 2011, article 2 of the public health code was passed to promote healthy eating and to maintain traditional French and Gallic cuisine.
It states: “A limited amount of ketchup, mayonnaise, vinaigrette and salt are only allowed to be served with dishes it was meant to be eaten with (without adding additional condiments).”
The law seems harmless enough until you realize there aren’t many meals that actually require ketchup or mayonnaise in France.
According to my children’s friends and my children who’ve all attended school in France for over 8 years, they’ve only ever seen ketchup served with these dishes.
- Hamburgers: Which are rarely served. (once or twice a year at most)
- Plain pasta: Kids in France like to put Ketchup on pasta.
- Chicken with no sauce: Ketchup might be offered with chicken if it has no other sauce.
- French Fries: French fries are rarely offered in French school because fatty fried foods served to children are limited 4 out of 20 meals. (source). For example, at my daughter’s school in Montpellier, Thursdays are designated “Frites Day” by the kids. (French fry day or as you Brits say Chips day).
French cafeterias serve meals to children that are more in line with what you (an adult might eat at a restaurant).
- Zucchini with a white roux sauce served with leeks and a bearnaise sauce
- Grilled salmon with fennel
- Beef stew with mushrooms
- Veal stew
- Tomato salad with grated goat cheese
6- In France, if a family member steals from you, you have no legal recourse:
Family members pretty much have immunity if they steal from another family member.
In France, family members are practically above the law if they steal from other family members.
Thanks to Article 311-12 of the French penal code, a 200-year-old law from 1810, ascendants (parents), descendants (children) and spouses who are not separated or legally living apart have immunity from the law if they steal from another family member.
Of course, this law doesn’t sit well with a lot of people since it gives family members the right to take and squander property and money, leaving the other without legal recourse.
There was a modification to the law made in 2006 which took away family immunity if the items stolen are indispensable documents needed for daily life such as identity cards, passports or a means of paying for things necessary to live.
You don’t have to be a legal genius to see the flaw in this law. In French forums across the internet, I found hundreds of complaints and pleas from people asking for help and advice on what they can do.
7- Parents can legally prevent their adult children from getting married
Article 173 of the civil code which dates back to the time of Napoléon in 1803 states that parents can file an opposition to their children’s marriage for any reason.
In 2010, this forgotten law was invoked by the parents of Stéphane Sage, a 25-year-old engineer, to block his marriage with Man Sin Ma (aka Mandy), a Chinese woman from Hong Kong whom he met in 2009 at the University in Grenoble.
The parents of the groom claimed they were protecting their son from the Chinese woman whom they said was marrying their son to obtain permanent residency in France and then claimed she was a Chinese spy. (source French), (source English).
*update* Stéphane and Mandy had the last laugh. After duking it out in court, they were married despite his parents’ opposition and live happily in Saint-Martin-d’Hères, a town near Grenoble where they both met. Unfortunately, Stéphane lost his family in the process but he doesn’t regret a thing because he and Mandy are happy and in love. (source)
8- It’s illegal to disinherit your children in France
In many countries like the UK, the US and Canada, you have the freedom to leave assets to whomever you want in whatever proportions you want. And if you want to cut your children completely out of your will you can do that too.
This can never happen in France thanks to Article 912 of the French civil code, which states that it’s illegal to cut a child out of a will— even children from a previous marriage and adopted children.
There are exceptions but for the most part, if you have assets at the time of your death, a portion goes to the surviving spouse with the remaining assets divided equally amongst surviving children.
French inheritance law wasn’t always based on equality.
Before the French revolution of 1789 (Bastille Day), inheritance law was somewhat of a complicated affair. Different rules applied depending on whether you were a commoner or aristocrat, middle class or a serf, a member of the church or a man of the cloth, a woman or a man etc.
When it came to inheritance for children, the law didn’t treat all children equally either: things like age, birth order, sex and whether you were legitimate or illegitimate were all deciding factors on what you inherited if anything at all.
After the revolution, a new law was enacted “Loi de Nivôse an II” (Law of Nivôse, Year II, or January 1794, under the revolutionary calendar) whose goal was to give equality to all heirs by dividing assets equally and to prevent fathers from disinheriting heirs.
The law wasn’t perfect but over time it evolved into what it is today which gives full equality to all children, legitimate and natural and gives surviving spouses rights to inheritance as well. (source law library)
Example of an inheritance dispute: 2017 death of Johnny Hallyday inheritance dispute
Johnny Hallyday is a French rock and roller, sometimes called “The French Elvis” who died in 2017. He left his entire fortune worth over 100 million dollars to his fourth wife Laeticia but excluded his only two biological children from previous marriages.
As a result, his biological children are contesting their fathers will be based on French law.
French law or US law?
Halliday’s will was drawn up in California where Halliday lived with his 4th wife Laeticia and two adopted daughters, Jade and Joy, whom he adopted in Vietnam with Laeticia.
Since Hallyday is a French citizen, the courts are being asked whether Hallyday had the right to escape France’s inheritance laws by claiming to be a resident of Los Angeles.
Under French law, the widow would have been entitled to 25% of his estate and each of his 4 children children an equal 18.75% part.
9- First cousin marriages are legal in France
In modern western society, marriages between close relatives, called an avunculate marriage, is prohibited not only because it’s considered incestuous but also because this type of union dramatically increases the chances that the children could inherit a duplicate copy of dangerous recessive genes from both parents— something which can happen about 25% of the time.
Avunculate MarriageAn avunculate marriage is when 25% of a person’s genes are the same: It includes uncles, aunts, nephews, nieces, grandparents, grandchildren, half-siblings (source).
In France the law prohibiting marriages between close relatives is article 163 and 161 of the French civil code, however, article 164 states that the President can authorize such a marriage under “special circumstances”.
First Cousin Marriages are legal throughout most of the world
First cousin marriages in France are a different story. They are perfectly legal in France, throughout Europe and many other places in the world including Canada, Mexico and Brazil.
The U.S. is the only western country with cousin marriage restrictions. Currently, 24 states in the US do not allow first cousin marriages.
If first cousin marriages sound strange to you, consider this.
At one time a marriage between cousins or even close relatives (avunculate marriage) was the preferred type of union in some societies, especially members of the ruling dynasties of Ancient Egypt or between the royal houses of Europe.
A study by the National Society of Genetic Counsellors says that first cousin marriages, although not well regarded, are more common and less dangerous than you’ve been led to believe.
First cousins share an average 12.5% of the same genetic DNA and the risk of giving birth to babies with genetic defects as a result of first cousins marrying is no greater than if a woman over 40 became pregnant, according to scientists and Professors Hamish Spencer & Diane Spencer.
Children of non-related couples have a 2-3% risk of birth defects, as opposed to first cousins having a 4-6% risk.
Famous first cousin marriages:
- Albert Einstein married Elsa Einstein
- Charles Darwin, the grandchild of first cousins also married his own first cousin, Emma Wedgwood.
- Edgar Allan Poe married Virginia Eliza Clemm.
- Queen Victoria married her first cousin Prince Albert
- Jesse James married his first cousin Zerelda Mimms.
- Louis XIV of France and Maria Theresa of Spain
Famous avunculate marriages include
- James de Rothschild married his niece, his brother’s daughter in 1824, in Frankfurt)
10- Even Snails need a ticket to ride the train in France
This next one is more of a rule than a law.
SNCF, the French Railway, has a standing rule for travelling with domesticated animals on the trains in France.
“All domesticated animals must pay for a ticket to ride the train and the price is dependent on weight.”
If your pet is over 6KG you must pay 50% of a normal second-class ticket and if your pet is under 6KG, you must pay 7 euros (price as of 2018).
I’ll admit, it’s not that strange of a rule except when you consider what went down with a box of snails in 2008. (official SNCF site)
Nicolas Bouchet, a preschool teacher in Paris decided to bring 20 or so snails to his preschool class which he put in a box at his feet on the train.
An hour into the trip, the ticket inspector passed through the train and asked Nicolas if he had a ticket for the snails. Nicolas thought the ticket inspector was joking but sure enough, she charged him 5.10 for the snails. (the price in 2008 for bringing a domesticated animal under 6kg onto the train). No pleading would or could change the mind of the SNCF employee.
Instead, the ticket inspector stated that the fee was more of an insurance for the animals in case the train has an accident and the animal dies.
Nicolas ended up paying the fee on the spot.
In the face of all the media attention received around the story, a spokesman for SNCF released a statement that Nicolas had been reimbursed the money he paid for the snails but stood by the rule of mandatory tickets for pets. (source)
11- It’s illegal to die in the town of Cugneaux, Sarpourenx and Lavandou in France
Strange as this law seems, there’s a simple explanation.
The law only prevents you from being buried in the town cemeteries unless you already have a family plot or vault.
The municipal law was put into effect by the mayors of Cugneaux, Sarpourenx and Levandou due to limited cemetery space. (source)
12- Flying saucers are not allowed to fly over the town of Chateauneuf du Pape
Since 1954, it’s been illegal for flying saucers and flying cigars to fly over the town of Chateauneuf du Pape, one of the most celebrated wine-producing villages in all of France.
According to several sources, the decree was borne out of the 1950’s UFO hysteria when a man in northern France reported that he saw what appeared to be two figures emerge from a cigar-shaped UFO.
The mayor at the time asked that a law be created to prevent UFOs’ from flying over the town and voila, brilliant marketing plan!
The law is still valid to this day and no flying saucers have been spotted flying over Chateauneuf-du-papa.
13- Baby Names French law won’t allow you to give your children in France
Many countries have baby naming laws which prevent parents from legally giving their children certain names- usually to protect the child from being given a name that’s offensive or embarrassing like Adolph Hitler and Osama Bin Laden, both illegal names in Germany.
Other countries only accept names from an agreed list like Denmark, Hungary and Iceland.
From 1803 to 1992, France had a similar baby naming law created by Napoleon which only allowed parents to give their babies French names which at the time meant parents had to choose from a small number of popular Roman Catholic saints such as Jacques, Pierre, Jeanne, Jean-Baptiste, Elizabeth etc.
Then in 1966, the baby naming laws were relaxed, just a little and parents were allowed to give their children foreign names and mythological names or regional names.
Then in 1993, the law changed again and Article 57 of the Civil Code was introduced in France which gave parents carte blanche baby naming privileges as long as the name given is “in the best interest of the child and is not detrimental to the rights of other families or third parties”.
Baby names banned every year
Despite this new naming freedom, every year the French courts use the law to prevent a handful of baby names.
Some of the baby names blocked make perfect sense, like the time when a couple of parents wanted to name their newborn “Mini-Cooper”.
- Another family was blocked from giving their baby girl the name ‘Liam’. The courts stated that it would cause gender issues for her since Liam is a boys name.
- Another family was blocked from naming their child “Fraise” (French for strawberry)
- and still, another family couldn’t use the name “Manhattan”.
More recently in 2014, the courts prevented a child from being named “Nutella”, the delicious and infamous hazelnut chocolate spread, so popular in France, stating that it could lead to teasing and disparaging thoughts later on in life. The parents ended up naming her Ella instead.
14- Potatoes were once illegal in France
The potato (pomme de terre) is extremely popular food source around the world, even in China, so it’s hard to believe that it was once illegal to cultivate it in France.
It’s believed the Spanish first brought the potato to Europe around 1570 from Peru (after they massacred the Incans), where it was then cultivated and mainly used as livestock feed for animals.
From Spain, the potato slowly made its way to Italy, England, Belgium, Germany, Austria and Ireland by 1590 until they finally arrived in France around the 1600’s.
The potato was scary and caused diseases
Unfortunately, wherever the potato was introduced, the so-called civilized people considered it ugly, weird, poisonous, evil and unfit for human consumption.
The potato was even blamed for spreading disease, mainly leprosy but also syphilis. Even starving destitute peasants avoided the potato “like the plague”.
Eventually, parliament banned the cultivation of potatoes in 1748 until 1772 (24 years).
M Parmentier: Famous Frenchman credited for making potatoes popular in France
That all changed in 1763 after army medical officer Antoine-Augustin Parmentier was released from capture by the Prussians during the Seven Years War (1756 – 1763) where he was fed potatoes and noticed no adverse effects.
After his release, he made it his mission to make potatoes an alternative to grain to help the starving people of France stating that potatoes could be used like flour for baking.
Potato publicity stunts
Parmentier began a series of publicity stunts to promote the potato including hosting dinners where only potato dishes were served for prominent guests such as Benjamin Franklin.
Louis the XVI once said to M Parmentier « France will thank you one day for having invented the bread of the poor».
In 1772, his efforts were rewarded and the potato was declared edible by the Paris Faculty of Medicine and was no longer illegal to cultivate.
Parmentier’s work has not been forgotten.
In France, many potato dishes carry his name such as the extremely popular Hachis Parmentier which is the French version of a traditional Shepard’s pie only “BETTER”. IMHO.
The main difference being Hachis Parmentier has no vegetables, the beef is seasoned usually with bay leaf, thyme and sometimes tomato paste and the potatoes are mixed with Parmesan cheese and topped with gruyere cheese which is turned golden brown and crunchy.
15-Organizing a child beauty pageants is illegal in France
In an attempt to prevent Hyper-sexualization in young children and increase gender equality, the Senate voted to amend an existing law which essentially makes it illegal for anyone to organize a beauty contest for children under the age of 16, punishable with 2 years of imprisonment and a 30K euros fine. The previous minimum age was much lower. The amended law took effect in 2013.
The bill was introduced after Parliament heard a report by French Senator Chantal Jouanno called “Against Hyper-Sexualisation: A New Fight For Equality. In Jouanno’s words, “Let us not make our girls believe from a very young age that their worth is only judged by their appearance.”
16- Religious symbols are banned in public schools including headscarves and crosses
In 2004, Article L141-5-1 of the Education Code banned the wearing of conspicuous religious symbols in public schools.
The law doesn’t mention any particular religious symbol but it’s implied that the ban includes large conspicuous crosses, Jewish kippahs, Sikh turbans, Christian veils, Islamic veils, Islam headscarves and other distinctive clothing that represent a religion.
The ban is designed to maintain France’s tradition of strictly separating state and religion.
Although the ban is framed by the authorities as a general ban against all religious symbols, many Muslims feel the ban is targeted towards them.
If teachers or students come to school wearing conspicuous religious symbols, they can be asked to remove them or risk being sent home.
17- Islamic face veils, such as the burka and the niqab are banned in public places in France
On April 11, 2011, France became the second European country after Belgium to ban face veils such as the burqa & niqab.
Law 2010-1192 makes it illegal to conceal your face in public spaces except when travelling as a passenger in a private car or worshipping in a religious place.
The law also paved the way for municipal bans on Muslim type swimwear, called “burkini bans,” in 2016. (see burkini ban law below)
Which types of clothing are banned / allowed?
Veils such as the chador, scarves and other headwear that do not cover the face, are not affected by the law and can be worn freely except where religious symbols are prohibited mainly public schools. (see law prohibiting religious symbols in public school)
At the time the law was passed, there were around 4.7 million Muslims in France and it was estimated that a tiny minority of Muslim women actually wear the full niqab or Burqa.
Women can be fined for wearing a face veil, while anyone who forces a woman to wear a veil risks a €30,000 fine and a year in prison.
Some companies take it a step further and don’t allow headscarves at work even though it is legally allowed to be worn in public places (but not public schools).
18- Islamic style Burkini banned on some beaches in France
A number of French seaside towns have now banned the burkini.
The suit is light enough for swimming and covers the whole body except the face, the hands and the feet. The design is intended to respect Islamic traditions of modest dress, however, its acceptability is debated.
Former President Francois Hollande added: “A burkini is a political act, a militant act, a provocation. Women who wear it are testing the Republic.”
The first burkini ban
In 2016, the mayor of Cannes, David Linsard was the first to introduce restrictions on the burkini which sparked international controversy.
Prime Minister Manuel Valls defended the ban by saying: “For me, the burkini is a symbol of the enslavement of women.”
The mayor countered that wearing the Burkin could undermine public order by making other beachgoers angry or afraid.
Since then several towns have followed suit by banning the burkini including Villeneuve-Loubet, Sisco and Touquet.
Wearing a Burkin on a beach that bans it, can result in a €38 fine.map of burkini ban source
18- Board Shorts are forbidden in public pools in France:
(Speedo type swimwear is preferred)
In public pools in France, certain types of swimsuits are authorized while others are forbidden for hygiene reasons.
Where hygiene is concerned, the swimsuit you wear in public pools and most water parks must be something strictly meant for swimming.
In other words, your bathing suit cannot be something you can wear outside of the pool: no shorts, no Bermuda shorts, no T-shirts, not even board short – you know, the kind guys wear to the beach with that special netting?
Here is the approved swimwear for men and women for most public pools in France:
- FOR MEN: Swim briefs aka “speedos” and body-hugging shorts that cover the waist to the upper thigh are always approved in public pools in France. (boxer de bain)
- FOR WOMEN: Bikinis and one-piece suits are allowed. (string or butt floss bikinis are usually not allowed).
If you get caught trying to enter a pool in France with non approved swimwear of any kind, lifeguards on duty will blow the whistle on you and send you back to the changing room or lobby where you usually can purchase an approved suit from a convenient vending machine for a few Euros.
You might be interested in reading20 things I hate about France
Why prohibit board shorts?
The idea behind prohibiting t-shirts and street clothes makes sense to most however board shorts cause a lot of head scratching to first timers but there is a method to this mad pool rule and it has to do with hygiene.
The shorter, the smaller and the tighter a suit is, the less likely dirt can cling on, under or in the swimsuit and into the pool. That’s it.
Swimming caps are usually also required for swimming in public pools.
20- A breathalizer must always be present in your vehicle in France
Drunk driving is one of the leading causes of death on roads each year. To prevent the risk of accidents and make drivers more responsible, all drivers must legally have a portable breathalyser (L’éthylotest) in their vehicle (except mopeds) as of 2012 according to Service-Public.fr.
You might be interested in reading
21- Photos you take of the Eiffel Tower illuminated at night violate French copyright law (except when…)
There’s a series of articles circulating around the web that claim taking photos of the Eiffel tower at night is illegal.
As ridiculous as that sounds, it’s actually true- but only half true thanks to EU and French copyright laws.
First of all, article 5 of the EU copyright directive states that all artistic work is protected under copyright —whether a song, painting, software, a book, architectural design etc—for the lifetime of its creator, plus 70 years.
In the case of the Eiffel Tower, which is an architectural design, Mr Gustave Eiffel died in 1923 and so the Eiffel Tower became public domain 70 years after his death in 1993.
Photos taken of the Eiffel Tower in the daytime are not copyright
Since the Tower structure is no longer under copyright protection, you can take pictures of it, publish and share them on social media, sell them, create Eiffel tower shaped coffee mugs or do whatever you want without prior permission from SETE( Société d’exploitation de la Tour Eiffel) .
Photos of the Eiffel Tower at Night while illuminated are protected under copyright
If you want to take pictures of the Eiffel tower at night, while it’s illuminated – that’s a different story because the various illuminations of the Eiffel Tower (golden illumination, twinkling, beacon and events lighting) are all protected under copyright law. (So is the Pyramide du Louvre and le viaduc de Millau.)
That’s because the Eiffel towers night light display, which was designed in 1985 by Pierre Bideau, an electrician and lighting engineer, is classified as it’s own separate “artwork” or “an artistic installation,” separate from the Eiffel tower and therefore is protected under copyright law for 70 years after the death of the artist.
Since Pierre Bideau is still alive (as of 2018), there’s no current deadline (no pun intended) for when the copyright of the Eiffel tower lights installation will expire.
Will tourists get into trouble for taking pictures and publishing photos of the Eiffel Tower at night?
Although technically protected under copyright law, no tourist has been sued for taking a selfie in front of the Tower and posting to Facebook or Instagram yet.
Probably because it would be a logistical and legal nightmare to go after all the photos floating around the web.
Also, as of 2016 an amendment was made to 122-5 of the Intellectual Property Code which allows people to take photos for personal use. You can’t sell the photos or profit from them without getting prior permission but you can share them on social media.
The official Eiffel Tower website confirms this information.