Breaking the law is something few of us ever dream of doing. After all, no one wants to pay fines, end up in prison, or worse, receive a death sentence. That goes without mentioning the social stigma you’ll face if you become a criminal. Needless to say, most of us are careful not to break the law, even if only to the extent of following the exact letters of a law or by means of malicious compliance.
No matter how hard you try, though, you’ll inevitably end up breaking the law out of ignorance. Few people actually know what their rights are, let alone what laws exist that they shouldn’t be violating. Couple that with the age-old legal maxim that says “ignorance of the law excuses no one” and you have a recipe for legal disaster.
Now, before you get a little too angry about that being “unfair” and before I end up going on legal fiction and why it’s necessary, the laws that you will no doubt break at some point in your life are mostly ones that are so obscure and outdated that even law enforcers have largely forgotten about them.
Why did these laws end up largely forgotten in the first place? That might have something to do with how bizarre they are. Here are a few of the weirdest ways you might be breaking the law.
1. Not Celebrating Guy Fawkes Night
Most of the people reading this will likely recognize the mask pictured above as the V for Vendetta mask, but did you know it’s actually called the Guy Fawkes mask. Okay, maybe that’s one of those explanations that lead to more questions.
So basically, Guy Fawkes was a British soldier who lived sometime in the 15th century. But being a British soldier didn’t mean he was fighting for England. Fawkes was a devout Catholic and he later left England to pursue a career as a soldier under the Spanish army, a country that was deeply Catholic at the time.
Hearing of his intense devotion to the Roman Catholic faith, Robert Catesby and his group of Catholic devotees recruited him into the Gunpowder plot, an assassination attempt that involved blowing up King James I and all of Parliament. Catesby had a bone to pick with the Church of England especially since the church and government persecuted his father for not sharing the views of the Church of England.
Even though Fawkes managed to light 36 barrels of gunpowder, the Gunpowder plot failed, and many of the men fled while Fawkes ended up getting hung.
Obviously, King James I was not happy about the attempt on his life which is why he and his Parliament made it illegal not to celebrate Guy Fawkes Night, sometimes called Bonfire Night, until 1859.
The celebration is meant to commemorate the moment that Guy Fawkes was caught red-handed, hence the quote, “Remember, remember the fifth of November.” The mandatory aspect of the celebration was likely a form of propaganda meant to discourage future assassins.
2. Having an Extramarital Affair
Getting cheated on stings, and it hurts even more if you’re already married to the person who’s cheating on you. Because of this, it’s understandable if people who have been cheated on harbor a lot of anger from the betrayal. If that resentment runs deep enough and they happen to live in the right state, the cheated-on spouse can file criminal charges against the cheater.
Believe it or not, adultery remains a crime in 23 U.S states. Among these states are Idaho, Oklahoma, Massachusetts, Arizona, Florida, Illinois, Kansas, and New York, just to name a few. But before you run off to contact a lawyer, know this: each state differs in what they mean by “adultery” and even if your spouse did commit acts that fit the bill, there’s still the question of whether all that trouble is worth the punishment they get.
In Florida, the most you can likely get is a two-month prison sentence and a maximum fine of $500. The same goes for Oklahoma and Massachusetts, except the former puts the max possible sentence at five years and the latter at three years.
If you’re in North Carolina, though, you might want to reconsider as the state will only send your unfaithful lover to prison for no more than 30 days. Or worse, you could be in Maryland and get a measly $10. Yikes.
3. Playing Football
Football players are some of the best-paid celebrities today. Lionel Messi, one of the most popular football players, receives $41 million a year from Paris Saint-Germain as compensation. That’s without counting his $30 million signing bonus or the percentage he gets from his merchandise sales revenue.
But if Messi were to travel back in time to 1314, he wouldn’t just be penniless and unknown, he would likely end up slammed with several fines for even playing the game. This is because, at the time, football was outlawed by Edward II, an English king.
The ban on football wasn’t due to any concerns for the safety of the players or some form of moral panic. Rather, it was put into place because the monarch believed that sports were a waste of able-bodied men and their time.
England was engaged in war with Scotland at the time and the monarchy was in need of young, able-bodied men who could stamp out the Scottish resistance forces hence the ban.
While it would be lifted when the fighting died down, Edward IV brought it back in 1477, ordering that: “No person shall practice any unlawful games such as dice, quoits, football and such games, but that every strong and able-bodied person shall practice with bow for the reason that the national defense depends upon such bowmen.”
If World War 3 comes, maybe we’ll be breaking the law by playing video games.
4. Wearing Pants if You’re a Woman
Can you make a guess as to what countries have laws against women wearing pants?
Mom jeans, skinny jeans, flared ankle pants — whichever it is, it seems as if every woman in the 21st century owns a pair of pants. This ubiquitous piece of clothing is so commonplace (and so comfortable!) that it’s hard to imagine a world where half the population isn’t allowed to wear pants. Okay, maybe that sounds naive because, at some point in history, it was illegal for women to wear pants.
One of the countries where you could be punished for breaking the law against women wearing pants was the U.S. It was only on May 28, 1923, that the Attorney General made it legal for women to wear pants.
While that sounds typical of the time, you might be surprised to know that if you ever visited Paris before 2013 and you wore pants, there’s a chance that you’re a criminal. The famous city of love only repealed its ban on women’s trousers in 2013 after legislators realized that they forgot to phase out the 200-year-old law which had been in effect since 1800.
The ban on female pants-wearing was also lifted for Sudanese women in 2019 along with bans on women drinking alcohol and dancing.
If you’re a man, you’re safe from most of these. But if you’re wearing skinny jeans in North Korea, sadly, you are still breaking the law.
5. It’s Illegal to Overreat or Share Binge-Eating Videos
You ever go to a restaurant hungry and think, “Man, I’m so hungry I could eat the entire menu.” because I do and it never ends the way I expect it to. Every time, I’m faced with the reality that I’m not as hungry as I thought I was. This is also a great way to waste money and food and, worse, I know I can’t be the only one who does this.
So just imagine what kind of laws get passed when enough of your country’s citizens act like this.
Mainland Chinese don’t have to resort to imagination because they’re already living that life. Back in July 2021, the country passed an anti-food waste law in a bid to stop the rampant wastage that spirits away nearly 30% of the country’s food supply. American vlogger Matthew Tye, who lived in China for a decade before returning to the U.S, explained that the wastage was due to cultural reasons.
“If you have too little food on the table, then you’ve lost face. You’re too stingy,” he explained in a video. “But it mostly stems from the fact that because of famines, people now celebrate the fact that food is so cheap and accessible.”
The Chinese government has responded to this trend by placing a ban on ordering too much food in restaurants. Restaurants caught breaking the law can face up to $1,550 in fines.
6. Possession of More Than 50kgs Of…Potatoes?
Remember those overly specific math problems teachers used to make us solve in elementary and high school? The weird ones where there’s a guy buying, for some inexplicable reason, 300 watermelons and a single lemon?
If those had you confused, then I have another question for you: If you were stopped by police on a highway in Western Australia and they found more than 50 kilograms (110 pounds) of potatoes in your trunk, how do you explain why you were breaking the law?
It sounds bizarre but possession of more than 50 kilograms of potatoes is still a real offense under Australian law. Section 22 of the Marketing of Potatoes Act of 1946 bans the transportation, selling, and purchasing of more than 50 kilograms of potatoes for people who aren’t members of the Potato Corporation or an authorized agent of theirs.
The fines can get pretty steep too. The first offense gets you a fine of $2,000 with the subsequent offenses being fined at $5,000. Australian dollars, of course.
7. Letting Your Chickens Cross the Road
Why did the chicken cross the road? To get its owner in trouble for breaking the law.
Bizarre traffic laws exist in many parts of the U.S. The strangeness is owed partly to the subject of these laws and partly to how weirdly specific they are. For example, in Alabama, they apparently had to specify that it’s illegal to drive while blindfolded. Maybe everywhere else, people just kind of understand they’ll end up charged with manslaughter?
Georgia’s bizarre traffic law against letting chickens cross the road has less horrifying implications but is still pretty funny if you think about it. The specific statute is Section 8-1, Article 1, Chapter 8 of the Code of Ordinances of the City of Quitman, Georgia.
The law states, “It shall be unlawful for any person owning or controlling chickens, ducks, geese or any other domestic fowl to allow the same to run at large upon the streets or alleys of the city or to be upon the premises of any other person, without the consent of such other person”
In short, no domestic fowl of any kind is allowed to wander the streets of the city or be on someone else’s property unless the owner agrees to it. This is likely these animals on public roads are blocking traffic and letting them get into other people’s backyards is trespassing into private property. Put it that way and the “no chickens crossing the road” law doesn’t sound as weird.
But hey, if you and your pedestrian chicken are breaking the law in Quitman, Georgia, at least have the common sense not to film it.