COVID-19 has brought out some truly weird and wacky behaviour. I'm not just talking face masks depicting your favourite Game of Thrones character, it's the response from well-meaning authorities.
In Italy's Lombardy region, local police used drones equipped with heat sensors to swoop down on pedestrians and check their temperature. To discourage crowds from gathering in its city park to celebrate April's Valborg festivities, the Swedish city of Lund ordered council workers to dump 1,000 kilograms of pongy chicken manure across the park's lawns.
Serbia's government introduced a "dog-walking hour" from 8 to 9 pm for those in lockdown. Dog owners barked back, and the government retreated with its tail between its legs. Over in Spain's Cadiz meanwhile, local authorities deployed tractors to spray bleach across a 1.2 kilometre stretch of beach in a misguided attempt to protect children from coronavirus. Conservationists were appalled and the official responsible was sent to the 21st century equivalent of the stocks and pelted with moral outrage.
It's not just COVID-19 that has caused those who govern us to enact some strange regulations. Thailand imposes stiff penalties for the crime of lese majeste, defaming or insulting any member of the country's royal family, as one Swiss national discovered when he drunkenly spray-painted posters of the late king. His 10-year jail sentence was commuted when he was pardoned by the king.
Singapore can jail you for chewing gum on the street, and just be aware that cannibalism is strictly prohibited in the US state of Idaho. Here's a few more laws you should keep in mind for when we're allowed to travel again.
Don't mess with the queen's swans
Queen Elizabeth is the technical owner of all "unmarked mute swans swimming in open waters" in the UK, a rule that has its origins in the 12th century. Although they're not likely to appear on the dinner menu at Buckingham Palace these days, swans were once reserved for the royal table, just as the wearing of golden garments was once the exclusive right of the emperor of China. The maximum penalty for killing a swan, the subject of fairy tales and Russian ballets, is a £5000 ($9126) fine or up to six months in jail. Harassing swans or – heaven forbid – throwing stones at them is regarded as bad form by animal-loving Brits.
New York unmasked
Until coronavirus began to bite, a New York State law banned two or more people wearing masks or any face covering from congregating in a public place. Penalty: up to 15 days in prison. The law dates from 1845, a time when farmers protesting the lowering of wheat prices would dress as masked "Indians" and attack the police. It has also been used in more recent times against the Ku Klux Klan. Since wearing masks has become a public health concern, the law was repealed in May 2020.
Majorca, no laughing matter
In a bid to defuse its reputation as a party free-for-all zone, Palma, capital of Spain's Majorca, passed a law forbidding street bottle parties, the sale of laughing gas and going topless apart from at the beach. The restrictions come hot on the heels of similar strictures in Majorca's Magaluf resort, legendary for its stag and hen parties and for waking up with a throbbing hangover and a tattoo you can't remember getting. Magaluf's new laws include heavy fines for climbing trees and for balconing - jumping from hotel room balconies into swimming pools.
Please don't die here
Located in the northwest of Hiroshima Bay, the island of Itsukushima is sacred to Japan's Shinto creed. Since purity is high on the list of Shinto virtues, dying on Itsukushima is strictly forbidden. Elderly inhabitants are required to remove themselves to the mainland as are pregnant women as their expected delivery day draws near. The island is famous for its torii, the iron-red gate (pictured above), which is surrounded by water at high tide. There's not much chance of dying here. The topography presents few dangers and the island's sacred deer are about as threatening as Bambi.
Turkmenistan's weird road rules
White buildings are de rigueur in Ashkhabad. Photo: iStock
It's illegal to drive a dirty car on the streets of Ashgabat, the capital. You'll be stopped by the police, fined and made to wash it right on the spot. Black cars and those with tinted windows are also banned, and you'll save yourself a heap of bother if you buy a white or silver car, as every sensible citizen does. Drivers who owned black cars when the edict came into effect in 2018 had their cars towed to a government facility and repainted.
Successive rulers of Turkmenistan – there have been only two in the post-Soviet era – are enamoured of the colour white. The capital has long boulevards of apartment buildings faced with white marble, and mostly empty since they're so expensive. These apartments have no balconies since residents might use them to dry clothing. Also, women have recently been banned from driving in Turkmenistan since 2018, on the grounds that they allegedly cause most of the road accidents.
Thailand, cover up
In Thailand it's illegal to leave your place of residence wearing only underwear. That's an offence under Section 388 of the Thailand Penal Code, which rules against "any shameful act in public by indecently exposing oneself's [sic] person, or by committing the other indecent act", punishable with a fine of 500 baht ($22).
The law has often been understood to mean you must be wearing underwear when you leave your house but that's a misinterpretation. Wear underwear or don't, nobody knows, and nobody cares – as long as you've got something on top.
India's one law nobody obeys
Honk if you love traffic. Photo: iStock
In India, Rule 23 of the Motor Vehicles (Driving) Regulations, 2017, prohibits unnecessary use of a horn. This probably sets a world record for a law most likely to be disobeyed. Indian drivers honk incessantly – when they overtake, when the car in front slows down, at intersections or just as a reflex when a moment of silence intervenes. Any Indian driver will tell you that the three requirements for driving the country's roads are "good brakes, good horn and good luck".
Police in Mumbai, "honking capital of the world", are testing traffic signals that force noisy drivers to wait longer. When the noise of collective honking rises above 85 decibels, the traffic lights reset to red. When that happens, frustrated drivers honk more.