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While France’s Civil law system, and its branches of public and private law, might differ substantially from the Common law systems of the English-speaking world, it shares at least one important element: some of the rules are so insanely anachronistic that they beggar belief. On a different, though no less bemusing, level are those which have been brought into force more recently by the country’s most eccentric legislators.
In December 1959, the Malpasset Dam in southern France burst and more than 420 people drowned. Among them was the fiancé of a pregnant woman named Irène Jodard. To assuage her grief, President Charles de Gaulle drafted a law that authorized the couple’s marriage. The president retains this power so long as there’s proof of the intended nuptials. The wedding arrangements should precede the date of death and no inheritance or other financial benefits are guaranteed. In 2014, a woman called Pascale from St. Omer, a town near Lille, married her fiancé two years after his sudden death.
In 1800, the Paris police chief banned women from ‘dressing like men’. If a woman wanted to wear trousers, she had to obtain a doctor’s note and the force’s approval. In 1892, the decree was relaxed for women on horses and, in 1909, on bicycles. In 1969, a repeal request was denied because it was deemed ‘unwise to change texts which foreseen or unforeseen variations in fashion can return to the fore.’ In 2003 it was decided that ‘[d]isuse is sometimes more efficient than (state) intervention’. Only on January 31st 2013 was it made officially impossible for a woman to be arrested for wearing trousers.
In Antibes, a town on the Côte d’Azur between Cannes and Nice, it is illegal to take a photograph of a police officer or a police vehicle even if they are in the background. In August 2016, police bureaus and politicians – including Christian Estrosi, the President of Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur, elsewhere along the French Riviera – went even further, threatening legal action against social media users who had published photographs and videos of officers enforcing the burkini ban. The images attracted worldwide attention and generated debate about the legality of the region’s clothing restrictions, a situation with which the authorities were obviously not comfortable.
In 1994, in an effort to promote and preserve the French language and musical culture, the Conseil Supérieur de L’Audiovisuel imposed a quota on radio stations stipulating that between the hours of 8AM and 8PM at least 40 per cent of the music played must be in French, and that 50 per cent of this must have been made within the last six months. With more and more local artists singing in English, stations resorted to repeating the same handful of songs in order to meet the requirement. In March 2016, MPs voted to lower the quota from 40 to 35 per cent (and 15 per cent for world music stations).
Since 1910, in accordance with a law introduced by the Société national du Chemin de fer (the precursor to the SNCF), it has been illegal to kiss in French train stations and especially on their platforms. The ban was intended to avoid costly delays to the service and overcrowding in the stations. It’s unclear for how long the law was enforced or, indeed, what the punishment was for an illicit smooch, but there is certainly no formal penalty in place today.
In 2011, the French authorities put in place a ban on unlimited ketchup, mayonnaise, and vinaigrette salad dressing in schools in an attempt to boost healthy eating amongst children. There are certain exceptions to this rule, however, including those meals served with French fries. The move is hoped to stem rising obesity rates in the country. According to 2014 figures, 23.9 per cent of the adult population has a BMI over 30, significantly higher than the Netherlands at 19.8 per cent, Germany at 20.1 per cent and Italy at 21.0 per cent, but lower than the United Kingdom at 28.1 per cent and the United States at 33.7 per cent.
In 2000, the mayor of Le Lavandou on the Mediterranean coast found himself in a rather troublesome position: the last grave in the local cemetery was filled at the same time as the regional court denied his request to build a new one nearby. Apparently, his proposal had violated a law regulating seashore constructions. In retaliation for what he saw as a ludicrous judgment, he passed a ridiculous law of his own which stated: ‘It is forbidden without a cemetery plot to die on the territory of the commune.’ It’s unclear how transgressors were to be punished.
In 1954, Lucien Young, the mayor of Châteauneuf-du-Pape, a town (again) in the south of France, issued a decree banning UFOs from flying over or landing on municipal soil. Locals have always known that it was part of an elaborate (and successful) marketing scheme to get the town and its wine some international media attention. In October 2016, the law was upheld by the new mayor Claude Avril. It reads: ‘Any aircraft, known as a flying saucer or flying cigar, which should land on the territory of the community will be immediately held in custody.’
Technically speaking, under Article L131-2 of the Monetary and Financial Code of October 30th 1935, anyone in France with a bank account can legally write a check on any old scrap of paper or any other ‘durable medium’ so long as it can reasonably withstand the demands of handling without damage. In reality, banks have the power to enforce the use of checkbooks on their customers so it’s highly unlikely that you’ll be able to hand out toilet paper money anytime soon.
Under Article 173 of the Napoleonic code, written in 1803 and not updated since 1919, parents can file a statement of opposition to the marriage of their adult children for any reason. This actually happened in November 2010 when, five days before their ceremony, 25-year-old Stéphane Sage and 27-year-old Man Sin Ma, originally from Hong Kong, found that their wedding banns had been removed from the town hall in Isère following the intervention of Mr. and Mrs. Sage. In December, the TGI in Grenoble ruled against the objection but also gave the parents one month to appeal. Unreal.