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10 odd drinking by-laws from around the world

The world is full of odd, antiquated laws which, although rarely if ever enforced, have remained on the statute books.

There are quite a few in the UK such as MPs not being allowed to wear armour in parliament and until 2012 (when it was scrapped along with 800 other outdated laws) there was a complex loophole which allowed one to shoot a Scotsman in York provided they were carrying a bow and arrow.

In Paris meanwhile there is (or was) a law which said it was illegal for a woman to wear trousers.

Given alcohol’s propensity to make people act in odd, irresponsible and sometimes dangerous ways when taken too liberally, it should be no surprise that there are quite a few laws in place around the world to counteract some of this behaviour.

Quite a few laws connected with alcohol are of course deadly serious – drink driving laws for example and given the level of drink-driving related deaths in France, the fact one is legally obliged to have a breathalyser kit in one’s car is perhaps understandable and also fairly unusual for those who aren’t French – but it’s not exactly…odd enough.

And as you can no doubt imagine there are some pretty strange drinking laws out there – mostly in the US – but there are also quite a few urban myths concerning drinking out there as well.

Here are a few of the world’s odd and amusing drinking by-laws and a few myths. Let us know in the comments of any more we may have missed.

It is illegal to be drunk in a pub (UK)

The 1872 Licensing Act effectively states that it is illegal to be drunk in the pub by making being drunk anywhere an offence.

It states: “Every person found drunk in any highway or other public place, whether a building or not, or on any licensed premises, shall be liable to a penalty.”

Given that the principal purpose of a pub is a place to drink in this seems a strange idea, but it was brought in to encourage lower levels of drinking – the theory being that rolling out of the pub completely blotto and being found anywhere would lead to a spell in the cells and encourage people to be more moderate.

Quite how widely it was enforced is hard to say and while it wouldn’t exactly be enforced today, should someone become intoxicated in any venue and then refuse to leave quietly they can of course be arrested for being drunk and disorderly.

Being drunk in charge of livestock (UK/US)

Both the UK and US have laws prohibiting people from taking charge of, or indeed riding, various animals while under the influence.

The second key part of the 1872 Licensing Act declares: Every person . . . who is drunk while in charge on any highway or other public place of any carriage, horse, cattle, or steam engine, or who is drunk when in possession of any loaded firearms… shall be liable to a penalty not exceeding forty shillings, or in the discretion of the court to imprisonment for any term not exceeding one month.”

Although being wrapped on the knuckles for being drunk in charge of a vehicle or firearm seems sensible – don’t go herding livestock after a few too many pints.

Over in the US meanwhile, it is an offence in the state of Colorado to drink while on horseback.

Don’t give beer to moose (US)

Continuing the animal theme, over in Alaska it is illegal to give booze to any passing moose that one comes across.

One can only imagine how and why that law was implemented, but Alaska also has an opt-out of the 21 age limit in the US whereby someone under the age of 21 can drink alcohol in a restaurant that doesn’t have a licence to serve alcohol as long as the drink in question is served to them by a parent, guardian or spouse.

Oh and factoid: the last state to introduce 21 as the age limit for drinking was Wyoming in 1988.

Elsewhere in the US, it is apparently illegal to give alcohol to fish in Ohio, which again sounds oddly precise, but one can only suppose was originally introduced to stop the deliberate poisoning of fish stocks…perhaps?

Drinks must be mixed behind a curtain (US)

A law that has now been partially repealed, it used to be illegal in Utah for a customer to see their bartender pour or mix their drink.

Every bar in the state had to have what was known as a ‘Zion curtain’ – a piece of frosted glass – to hide the act of a bartender preparing a drink.

Since 2009 any new bar or restaurant was exempt from having to install the partition and the effect on the business of those older venues that still had them was so detrimental that in March last year a sweeping piece of legislature was passed that allowed (among other things) many bars and restaurants to tear down their Zion curtains.

Cue the sound of much broken glass across the state.

Drinking at work (France)

In France it used to be the case that no employer could refuse to serve wine, beer, cider or mead to their employees in a workplace canteen. Spirits were banned and drivers, medical staff and machine operators were likewise prohibited from imbibing.

But across the rest of the country it was a legal right to drink during lunchtime until 2014 when the department of labour decided that bosses could proscribe the serving of alcohol.

One glass of wine for married women (Bolivia)

Bolivia apparently still has a law on its books that prohibits married women from having more than one glass of wine in a restaurant or bar.

Those who enjoy more are supposedly at risk of becoming “morally and sexually lax” and it is sufficient enough grounds for a divorce.

As with a number of other laws around the world quite how widely this law is actually enforced anymore is open to question and, as a counterpoint to this rather sexist bit of legislation, know that in Pennsylvania, technically a man must have written permission from his wife in order to buy booze.

No Good Friday drinking (Ireland)

Many states, provinces and country’s have laws that prohibit the selling of alcohol on election days, largely due to former dodgy practices such as buying voters large quantities of beer on polling days in order to get them to vote for a particular candidate or other.

Religious feast days are often linked with abstinence of some sort or another. Over in Ireland the sale of alcohol on Good Friday was banned for 90 years until it was lifted this year.

No drinking in groups (Italy)

In Italy there is a law that is designed to prevent groups of more than three people drinking on the street.

Furthermore, it is illegal to eat or drink anything while on the steps of or while standing next to a church.

No drinking while standing (US)

Texas is renowned as a big, brash all-American sort of state but if standing up while enjoying a beer you’d better not take more than three sips at a time or you’ll find yourself on the wrong side of the law.

Or at least that’s the urban legend but in reality it appears this has never been the case in Texas although there are laws that are meant to ensure that bars have adequate seating.

Severe punishment for drink drivers (worldwide)

Continuing with drinking by-laws that aren’t real, there are occasional claims that in both Bulgaria and El Salvador the penalty for drink driving is to be shot by firing squad – at least on the second offence in Bulgaria.

This is not true. Bulgaria no longer has the death penalty and it is only sanctioned in El Salvador for the most exceptional of crimes, although it would be no surprise to discover that during the turbulent years of the ‘70s and ‘80s it was used as an excuse to cover up the numerous extra-judicial killings that took place.

On the other hand, back in the US, if you kill a person or persons while under the influence and are convicted of murder in a state that has the death penalty, then you may very well be executed for drink driving, and in Utah, you can even be shot by firing squad if you choose, so it’s not beyond the realms of possibility.

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