Find out some absurd ways you can get in trouble in French municipalities, Source: Depositphotos

10 Weird Laws You’ll Find in French Cities

10 Weird Laws You’ll Find in French Cities

Another journey through the quirky, bizarre and funny local ordinances in Europe

This week, we’re continuing our journey to the wild world of European local weird laws. So weird indeed that their quirkiness might actually act as a marketing draw to a destination if they become widely known among the global travelling community.

After checking out what’s non bene to do in Italy, we head out to France to check out what weird rules and regulations local councils have decided to impose on their territories.

And yea, you’ve all probably heard the one where no French pig can be called Napoleon. Well, that’s a bit of fake news. France is a republic and there’s no lèse-majesté legislation in force. The story actually goes back to the publishing of George Orwell’s Animal Farm, a book that has a tyrannical pig named Napoleon as a protagonist.

French publishers were not too happy about that naming though and did find it insulting to their historical memory, so a decision was made to rename the pig to Cesar in the French version of the now-classic book. Publishers, however, don’t have the jurisdiction to impose laws so the whole spun into a myth that persists until today in the popular imagination.

Here are some laws though, which to the best of our knowledge, are factual. On y va – let’s go… and mind your step!

No night pictures of the Eiffel Tower

eiffel tower at nightIt's free to admire, at least. Source: Unsplash

It goes without saying, we should start with Paris – the City of Light. It’s ironic because one of the strangest local laws in the French capital has to do directly with lights. Apparently, it’s not allowed to snap pictures of the iconic Eiffel Tower at night when it’s all brightly lit up. Huh?

This one actually has to do with EU copyright legislation, which states that artistic work is protected for 70 years after the author’s death. Yea, well, Monsieur Eiffel passed away in 1923, so taking pics of his famous tower has been legit since 1993, at least. However, that doesn’t apply to its illumination installations, which itself is considered to be under a separate intellectual property.

Technically, you need to ask permission from SETE, the managing company of the image of the Eiffel Tower on behalf of the Mairie de Paris. However, it would be a nightmare to go after every person snapping a photo of the tower at night, so an amendment in the law allows people to take pictures, and share them on social media – as long as it’s not for commercial purposes.

No elephants at Granville Beach

elephant on beachThis is not a cool sight to behold in Granville. Source: Unsplash

Granville is a picturesque seaside town in the region of Normandy. And apparently, a place that has soured on elephants since 2009. Back then two circuses were passing through and it seems that the pachyderms were taken to the beach, because why wouldn’t they be?

So far so good, but the circus guys made the same mistake that many dog owners tend to make – they forgot to clean up the droppings of the large animals. So, naturally the mayor was displeased and immediately issued an order for future elephants to be denied access to the sandy strip. Seems unfair, now that we think about it though.

No dying in Cugnaux

skeletons mopedStaying French even in death. Source: Unsplash

It looks like it’s not just the Italian town of Falciano del Massico that has a monopoly on this weird law. Cugnaux is an otherwise unassuming little town located somewhere in the Haute-Garonne in the Southwest of France.

The local mayor must’ve had also a bit of a satirical talent as after being refused a permit to expand the local cemetery ground, he then shrugged and passed an ordinance banning the act of dying on the territory in 2007. Another small town called Sarpourenx, also in the Southwest, copied that bizarre legislation as a form of protest in the following year.  (And we admire this, using your power to mock higher powers).

No UFOs at Chateauneuf-du-Pape

chateauneuf tourist infoNext time you're in Chateauneuf-du-Pape, ask at the info office if the UFO ban still applies. Source: Jean-Louis Zimmermann on Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

Wine lovers from around the world are well aware of Chateauneuf-du-Pape and its ancient vineyards that produce very potent, mostly red wines. They might be less aware of a local law, which prohibits wine enthusiasts from outer Space to park their spaceships in the town.

Laws, right? Always discriminating against someone. Well, this one was apparently a bit of a marketing trick on the part of the local council. The authorities latched on a brief media sensation about “flying cigars” being spotted in the sky above Chateauneuf-du-Pape in 1954 and introduced that outlandish piece of legislation.

If mayors can be satirists, why can’t they be creative marketers as well?

In Sainte-Gemmes-sur-Loire, make space for Santa's reindeer 

santa reindeerFree parking space is quite the sweet deal. Source: Unsplash

This small town is located in the Pays de la Loire region, in fact, it lies on the Loire River, which snakes its way through the Northwest of France dazzling visitors with the rich array of Renaissance castles on its banks.

According to La Nouvelle Republique, in 1999, the local mayor (those cheeky mayors) decided to issue a bizarre decree that allowed Santa Claus to park his open sleigh on an isle in the river called Ile aux Chevaux (or The Horses’ Island).

Said mayor likely forgot that Santa’s vehicle is actually pulled by flying reindeer. What will the horses say? Oh well, it’s the gesture that counts. And it does count because the jolly old man has the right to park for free there.

No mosquitoes in Briollay

mosquitoThat's one huge mosquito. Source: Unsplash

We’re sure that every mayor and his constituents anywhere in the world would actually love to copy this particular law, no matter how weird. Briollay is also a town not far from the Loire River, and apparently one that suffers from mosquito swarms come summer. The summer of 2018 must’ve been especially bad because the residents kept complaining to the authorities about being bitten by the pesky insects.

Not sure what else he could do the mayor then donned his legislative robe and banished mosquitoes from the town with a decree. At least on paper, he did. The town folk took the joke in stride and last year Mayor André Marchand (author of the weird law) was even bestowed the title of honorary mayor after leaving office.

Must stay happy in Essarts-en-Bocage

smiling at the skyKeep that smile no matter what happens. Source: Unsplash

We remain the Loire Valley, seemingly a national trove for weird laws in France. The small town of Essarts-en-Bocage wishing to stay trendy started its own music festival called “Ville en joie” (Joyous town) in the autumn of 2019. First editions, however, require creative and intensive marketing in order to get some attention from tourist crowds faced with so many festival choices.

So, an ordinance was issued that stated that there is an obligation “to be happy from 5 to 11 October 2019". That’s right, these were the dates of the festival. What’s more, this one had a quantitative requirement as citizens had a minimum of 10 smiles a day quota to fulfil.

Can’t be rude in Lhéraule

bonjour signEven this door is polite. Source: Unsplash

Many tourists would quip that this one should become a law in Paris, famous for its grumpy and aloof residents. Alas, it is only enforced in a much smaller place, a village of some 200 people in northern France, called Lhéraule.

That rule, however, is very specific and in light of the recent riots in France, which targeted public government buildings it was an oddly good hunch for things to come. In 2012, the mayor made it compulsory for visitors to the local town hall to say bonjour and merci when addressing the civil servants working there (we can only assume that the public employees, too, have to be polite).

Should the visitors fail to be civil, they can be asked to leave. The rule is not applicable during weddings or election days, though.

Can’t be rude to donkeys in Saint-Léger-des-Prés

two donkeysWhy would you be rude to those two anyway? Source: Unsplash

And if Lhéraule cares that its public servants are treated well and with dignity, the local government of Saint-Léger-des-Prés, in Brittany, expects the same toward the donkeys living there. That rule goes back to 1991 when the mayor at the time was apparently the proud owner of three of these animals.

He took it quite personally and was not a fan of all the donkey-related metaphors used as insults in his town. Consider these French expressions and you’ll understand - faire l’âne (to act stupidly), dire des âneries (to talk rubbish), bête comme un âne (stupid as a donkey). 

Rural noisemakers are part of the French heritage

rooster crowingA rooster busy doing his job. Source: Unsplash

Many urban residents catch themselves daydreaming of an idyllic rural getaway, where everything is supposed to be peaceful and quiet, save maybe for birdsongs and the chirping of crickets.

Well, apparently a pensioner who decided to settle down in an unnamed location somewhere in Western France literally had a rude awakening. Or many of them, after he was kept awake by the neighbour’s rooster called Maurice. Things went to court, but the judges ruled in favour of Maurice and his owner, stating that the noises he produces are part of the natural heritage of the countryside.

What’s more, in 2021, the French Senate passed a law to protect all these intangible elements that make up what we all instinctively know is the countryside. That includes not only a rooster’s crow but also things like cowbells, cow droppings and even early-morning tractors or harvest machines.

There’s a way out of weird laws, too

As you can see, many of these laws had to do with the specific quirks of the mayors who enacted them. And the laws often stay even after said politicians have left office. That isn’t always a bad thing, though, because it can bring some notoriety and attention to the particular town.

Nevertheless, the French also have a special institution at their disposal in case they would like to repeal an absurd and bothersome law. It’s called BALAI, which translates to “sweeper” or “broom”, but is also an abbreviation of "Bureau d'abrogation des lois anciennes inutiles" (Office for the abrogation of old useless laws).

French bureaucracy – it will never cease to amaze us in all its forms.



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