Driving shirtless, strolling in your swimsuit, or just forgetting to flush the loo: Here are some odd laws that can get you in trouble around the world
By Katrina Brown Hunt
No Feeding Pigeons
Laws here are city-specific, and Venice takes issues with pigeons speckling their beloved buildings with pigeon poop. Likewise, officials don’t appreciate tourists adding to the crowd and mess in St. Marks Square by feeding said pigeons. They also don’t want visitors sitting around shirtless, climbing into fountains, or even sitting on the sidewalk eating a sandwich. In Rome, climbing into fountains to cool off causes similar stress.
Penalty: At first, just a warning; fines can reach up to $600, though probably no more than $50 or $60 if you pay quickly. “The local police are quite tolerant about tourists feeding pigeons just to take a picture,” says a Venice spokesman.
Stopping On the Autobahn
As though driving the autobahn in Germany weren’t daunting enough, the laws add other risks. Running out of gas on the legendary highway is illegal — and your troubles snowball from there. Say you do find the needle on “E” and have to pull over to hoof it, in pursuit of gas. Walking along the autobahn is illegal, too... not to mention terrifying.
Penalty: A little under $100 for endangering other drivers — once for running out of gas, and again for walking.
Don’t let the tropical weather tempt you to joy ride with your shirt off in Thailand. Police can (and do) hand out tickets if they spot you topless while driving a car or motorcycle.
Penalty: A mere slap on the wrist (or sun-burned shoulders). Tickets go for a few hundred baht (about $10).
Paying in Pennies
Canada’s Currency Act of 1985 sets out the guidelines for how coins should be used, including reasonable limits for the shelling out of endless coins. What’s reasonable? Don’t try using all coins to buy something that costs $10, or even using all one-dollar coins (sometimes called “loonies”) to pay for an item that costs more than $25. But then, what kind of loonie wants to carry so many coins anyway?
Penalty: If the seller actually wants to take all your pennies, he can, but by law he can also tell you to scram.
No Kissing at Train Stations
France and England
By some accounts, April 5, 1910 was the day romance died on French railways: Kissing was reportedly banned to help deter lover-induced rail delays. But the law seems to be unheard of today. “Are you sure this isn’t a law in Great Britain?” a French spokeswoman at the consulate asked us. What a coincidence: It turns out that Virgin Trains has recently posted “No Kissing” signs at its station in Warrington Bank Quay, in northwest England.
Penalty: While there’s no penalty now for train-related kissing in France, the folks at Warrington Bank Quay will politely ask you to move your smooching to the designated “kissing zone” near the car park.
Driving a Dirty Car
Some say this is just an excuse for Moscow police to over-ticket drivers, but you should still watch the filth factor on your rental car. How dirty is dirty? That’s unclear. A recent newspaper survey explored the idea of how to even define “dirty” — almost half said a car was too filthy if you couldn’t read the license plate, while 9 percent said the determining factor was if you couldn’t see the driver.
Penalty: You can get a ticket. Fines might be, shall we say, open to interpretation. Here is a case where you might politely offer to pay the officer up front — $100 should cover it — and be on your way.
Strolling in a Bathing Suit
Visiting cruise-ship passengers have gotten under the skin of the local police in Grenada, who cringe at tourists walking off the beach during their shore excursions and into town wearing nothing but their swimsuits. The police chief instituted a fine, and supposedly has also expressed interest in fining folks who wear their jeans too low.
Penalty: In theory, a $270 ticket, though the tourist board assures us that they don’t think it has really been enforced.
Driving With Headlights Off
Renting a car? You must always drive with headlights on, says the law in Denmark, to distinguish you from a parked car. Do the Danes really drive so slow that there’d be any confusion? Actually, studies have found that other drivers are more aware of surrounding vehicles when other cars’ lights are on, thus reducing accidents. The law may get adopted across the European Union.
Penalty: Driving without headlights will get you a fine of a little under $100.
Feeding birds, spitting, and not flushing public toilets will also get you in trouble. Singapore’s most quirky-seeming laws stem from the government’s well-meaning desire to keep things tidy — and let’s face it, gum wads, pigeon droppings, and unflushed toilets aren’t pretty. The infamous gum law actually loosened up in 2004, and Nicorette is now legal (though you have to get it through a doctor and they take down names). Selling regular gum is more of a problem than just casually chewing it, a spokesman says. And more changes are on the way: Gambling will become legal later in 2009, and you can now legally dance on top of bars.
Penalty: About $100 a ticket, especially for leaving a toilet un-flushed; many public loos auto-flush, we learned, but it’s wise to double-check on your way out.
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