Like most countries, France has its fair share of strange, unusual, and funny outdated laws that date back as far as the middle ages. Here are a few that stand out with links to research and official sources.
21 weird, strange, crazy, funny and unusual French laws and why they exist
France has roughly 10,500 laws and 127,000 decrees, which keep order and peace in the country.
I thought it would be interesting to research some of Frances’s more bizarre or unusual laws on the books.
I’ve 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.
1) It’s perfectly legal to marry a dead person in France
If you meet specific requirements
Every year, there are a handful of posthumous marriages in France, one of the few countries where it’s legal to marry a dead person, thanks to article 171 of the Civil Code.
Don’t get too excited. This isn’t some loophole to gain French citizenship by marrying a dead French person. Certain conditions must be met.
- You need to prove that the deceased person had the intention of marrying you.
- There must be serious grounds for 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 two young children together.
Pictured above: In 2017, French police officer Xavier Jugelé married his deceased partner, who a gunman killed on the Champs Elysees in April 2017. They had been living together before his partner’s death.
History of posthumous marriages in France
Posthumous marriages have existed in France since the First World War. Initially 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, 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 that 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. 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 realize.
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 influenced by American and British culture.
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 that 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 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 require ketchup or mayonnaise in France.
According to my children’s friends and my children who’ve all attended school in France for over eight 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: are rarely offered in French schools because fatty, fried foods served to children are limited to 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 many people since it gives family members the right to take and squander property and money, leaving the others 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 groom’s parents 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 the groom’s 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 it 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 entirely 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 complicated. 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. (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 Los Angeles resident.
Under French law, the widow would have been entitled to 25% of his estate and each of his 4 children an equal 18.75% part.
9- First cousin marriages are legal in France
An avunculate marriage is when 25% of a person’s genes are the same: It includes uncles, aunts, nephews, nieces, grandparents, grandchildren, half-siblings (source), but not cousins.
In modern western society, marriages between close relatives, 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.
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 in France and throughout most of the world.
First cousin marriages in France are a different story.
They are not avunculate marriages and perfectly legal in France, throughout Europe and many other places globally, 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.
Map information source
If first cousin marriages sound strange to you, consider this.
At one time, marriage between cousins or close relatives (avunculate marriage) was the preferred type of union in some societies, especially members of the ruling dynasties of Ancient Egypt or between Europe’s royal houses.
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 of 12.5% of the same genetic DNA. 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 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 regular 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 if 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 mayor 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 famous 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 today, and no one has spotted any flying saucers 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 that 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, Napolean created a similar law that only allowed parents to give their babies French names. At the time, this meant parents had to choose from a small number of popular Roman Catholic saints such as Jacques, Pierre, Jeanne, Jean-Baptiste, Elizabeth etc.
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.”
Examples of 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 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 since Liam is a boy’s 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 an extremely popular food source worldwide, 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 it finally arrived in France around the 1600s.
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 from 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 France’s starving people, stating that potatoes could be used as 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.
Many potato dishes carry his name in France, such as the extremely popular Hachis Parmentier, the French version of a traditional Shepard’s pie only “BETTER.” IMHO.
The main difference is that Hachis Parmentier has no vegetables. The beef is seasoned, usually with bay leaf, thyme, and sometimes tomato paste. The potatoes are mixed with Parmesan cheese and topped with gruyere cheese, which is turned golden brown and crunchy.
15-Organizing child beauty pageants are 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 two 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 wearing 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 authorities frame the ban as a general ban against all religious symbols, many Muslims feel the ban targets 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, which cover the face completely, except for the eyes.
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, headscarves 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 in public schools. (see law prohibiting religious symbols in public school)
When the law was passed, there were around 4.7 million Muslims in France, and it was estimated that a tiny minority of Muslim women 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
Several French seaside towns have now banned the burkini.
Burkini or burqini (burqa + bikini),
A type of modesty swimsuit for women recently invented by a Lebanese-born Australian fashion designer, Aheda Zanetti.
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 where it’s banned can result in a €38 fine, and you may be asked to leave. 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 shorts – 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 wearing non-approved swimwear in a French public Pool, lifeguards on duty will blow the whistle and send you back to the changing room. There’s usually a vending machine where you can purchase appropriate swimwear for a few Euros.
You might be interested in reading: 20 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, the less likely dirt can cling on, under or in the swimsuit and into the pool.
Swimming caps are usually also required for swimming in public pools.
20- A breathalyzer 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 breathalyzer (L’éthylotest) in their vehicle (except mopeds) as of 2012, according to Service-Public.fr.
YOU MIGHT BE INTERESTED IN READING: Driving in France: a tourist’s guide to important things you must know
21- Photos you take of the
Eiffel Tower illuminated at night violate French copyright law (except when…)
There’s a series of articles circulating the web that claim taking photos of the
As ridiculous as that sounds, it’s 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
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. You may also sell replicas of the Eifel tower, create
Photos of the
Eiffel Tower at Night while illuminated are protected under copyright
If you want to take pictures of the
Various illuminations of the
Created in 1985 by Pierre Bideau, an electrician and lighting engineer, the
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 posting a selfie in front of the Tower on Facebook or Instagram.
It would be a logistical and legal nightmare to go after all the photos floating around the web.
Also, as of 2016, 122-5 of the Intellectual Property Code was amended to allow people to take photos for personal use. You can’t sell the images or profit from them without getting prior permission, but you can share them on social media.
The official Eiffel Tower website confirms this information.