from the world's big
10 of Europe's weirdest laws
Amongst other things, you can't get away with handling a salmon suspiciously in Scotland.
- While a few of the laws on this list are holdovers from long ago, some laws are as recent as 2011.
- While marrying a dead person or handling salmon suspiciously might sound morbid or hilarious, these laws have historical context.
- Some of today's laws might seem as antiquated as these in 100 years, too.
In England and Scotland, it is illegal to handle a salmon in suspicious circumstances
Anglers on the banks of the river Tay during the traditional opening of the river Tay Salmon Season on January 15, 2018 in Kenmore, Scotland. Photo credit: Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images
The Salmon Act of 1986 has to do with the regulation of salmon fishing, as the waters off of the east and north-east coasts of England and Scotland are famous for their boundless number of the fish. There's 43 paragraphs in the law, but people certainly seem to be drawn to the 32rd section, which states that "it is illegal to handle a salmon in suspicious circumstances." You can read it here.
While the line out of context sounds like it could easily be a new-wave album title — or, perhaps something out of a Monty Python sketch — it ostensibly has to do with illegal fishing, i.e., don't go rogue and try and start a salmon fishing operation in British or Scottish waters without consulting the government first.
In England, it is illegal to be drunk and in charge of a horse
Water drips off a horse after finishing a race with a water bucket being poured on them at Exeter Racecourse on October 23, 2018 in Exeter, England. Photo credit: Harry Trump/Getty Images
Though the law is widely cited as not being allowed to be in charge of a cow, the law is actually on the books to include several other, uh, modes of transport. According to British law, "Under the Licensing Act 1872, it is an offense to be drunk in charge of a carriage, horse, cow or steam engine, or whilst in possession of a loaded firearm." Ostensibly, this was a law is to make drunk driving illegal before cars were invented.
It is illegal to enter a taxi if you have the plague
Image source: Wikimedia Commons
If the zombie apocalypse ever actually happens, there's a good chance none of them will be taking a taxi. . . thanks in large part to the Public Health (Control of Disease) Act of 1984. The law is actually somewhat more specific in regard to the transport of sick passengers: you have to tell the driver you're ill, and then it's up to them to let you in. Then the taxi driver must tell the authorities, who in turn will disinfect the taxi. Bus drivers are forbidden from taking anyone with a "notifiable" disease, which includes the plague.
In France, if you advertise a product that exceeds a certain amount of sugar, you have to include that you should eat 5 fruits or vegetables a day, too
Photo credit: George Gobet / AFP
This stems from a 1976 law stating, amongst other things, that advertisers must include certain messages within advertisements. It was updated in 2006 to include more snappy and healthy lines, as well as a web address. A quick google translate of the law finds a few of the lines that must be included: "Learn about your child not to snack between meals," and "Move, play is essential to the development of your child," and "In addition to milk, water is the only essential drink". How refreshing!
In France, it is legal to marry a dead person
Zombie Yazmine Ponce stands guard along the 16th St. Mall during the 11th annual Zombie Crawl on October 22, 2016. Photo credit: Andy Cross/The Denver Post via Getty Images
Marrying a dead person is legal in France... but there has to be sufficient evidence that you were planning to marry before they died. After a tragic dam burst in 1959 dam, one widow wrote to then-President Charles de Gaulle to ask if it were possible to still marry her (now dead) husband. Touched by the letter, he wrote it into law. You can read the law here.
In Finland, you cannot play music in a cab.
Finnish road, Flickr
Apparently your driver can't play music in a Finnish taxi. According to a 2002 law, playing music in a taxi is designated as a "public performance." To get around this, Finnish taxi drivers must pay about 14 euros a year to the Finnish Composers Copyright Society. The 14 euros applies for all music, not just Finnish music, meaning you can listen to more than the biggest Finnish song of the last 20 years, Darude's "Sandstorm", and Finland's biggest contribution to music: death metal.
In Denmark, you cannot give your baby a weird name (and in Norway, you can't name yourself Sonic the Hedgehog if you're under 18)
Blue Ivy and Beyonce Knowles attend the 60th Annual GRAMMY Awards at Madison Square Garden on January 28, 2018 in New York City. Photo credit: Christopher Polk/Getty Images
The Law on Personal Names states that you have to pick from a list of acceptable names. Don't worry — as of 2016 there's about 18,000 women's names and 15,000 men's names. There's also a special counsel that you can write to if you want to add a name from your home country. If you don't like your last name, you can even change it to one of 2,000 "free" last names.
There's a great story out of Norway I found while researching the above: in April, 2009, a 6 year-old boy asked his parents to send King Harald a letter, asking him if he could legally change his name to "Sonic X." The parents didn't send the letter until the boy insisted, and they unexpectedly received a reply from the king saying that, since the boy wasn't 18, he couldn't legally change his name to Sonic.
You can't hike naked in Switzerland.
A couple hikes naked in the Swiss Alps, 2006. Image source: Wikimedia Commons/Big Think graphics
Bad news if you want to go berry-picking in the buff. In 2011, a Swiss court deemed it so that it would be made illegal to hike naked. The case was brought forth after a German man strode gallantly past a family picnicking in the town of Appenzell, near the Swiss Alps. Oddly enough, naked hiking had become increasingly popular in the years before the court ruling. The New York Times ran a whole article on it in 2009.
If the sea freezes between Sweden and Denmark, a Dane can legally hit a Swedish person with a stick if they walk to Denmark over the ice.
Photo credit: Kevis Mulchan via Unsplash
This is an ancient law that dates back to 1658, when Denmark and the Swedes were at war with each-other for 2 years and Swedes continuously marched across the belts of ice between the two countries. Nobody has cared to remove it since then, so the provision still stands.
Prostitutes in Catalonia, Spain, have to wear safety vests.
LLEIDA, SPAIN - OCTOBER 28: Three prostitutes wear reflective vests as they walk along a road on October 28, 2010 near Els Alamus in Lleida, Spain. Photo credit: David Ramos/Getty Images
A 2010 law made it so that prostitutes in Catalonia had to wear reflective safety vests. Not because of the job, but to make them more visible to traffic. There had allegedly been several accidents involving the prostitutes, who gather near the roadways. Although your correspondent's Spanish is hazy — at best — research into exact incidents is turning up nada.
Andy Samberg and Cristin Milioti get stuck in an infinite wedding time loop.
- Two wedding guests discover they're trapped in an infinite time loop, waking up in Palm Springs over and over and over.
- As the reality of their situation sets in, Nyles and Sarah decide to enjoy the repetitive awakenings.
- The film is perfectly timed for a world sheltering at home during a pandemic.
In more than a dozen countries as far apart as Portugal and Russia, 'Smith' is the most popular occupational surname
- 'Smith' is not just the most common surname in many English-speaking countries
- In local translations, it's also the most common occupational surname in a large part of Europe
- Ironically, Smiths are so ubiquitous today because smiths were so special a few centuries ago
Meet the Smiths, Millers, Priests and Imams - the most popular occupational surnames across Europe.
Image: Marcin Ciura<p>Although very few people are smiths by profession these days, there are millions of Smiths by surname the world over. It's the most popular surname in Britain, Australia, New Zealand and the United States, as well as the second most popular surname in Canada and the fifth most popular one in Ireland. And they're a thriving bunch, at least in the U.S.: the 2010 Census (1) counted 2,442,977 Americans called Smith, 2.8% more than in 2000.</p><p>Curiously, 'Smith' also is one of the most popular surnames across most of Europe –translated in the various local vernaculars, of course. This map shows the most common occupational surnames in each country. By colour-coding the professions, this map shows a remarkable pro-smith consistency across Europe – as well as some curious regional exceptions.</p>
‘Smith’ popular throughout Europe<p>'Smith', in all its variations, is the most popular occupational surname throughout Europe. Not just in the UK, but also in:</p> <ul><li>Belgium (<em>Desmet</em>) and Luxembourg, (<em>Schmitt</em>);</li> <li>France (<em>Lefebvre</em>), Italy (<em>Ferrari</em>) and Portugal (<em>Ferreira</em>);</li> <li>Slovenia (<em>Kovačič</em>), Croatia (<em>Kovačevič</em>), Hungary (<em>Kovács</em>), Slovakia (<em>Kováč</em>), Poland (<em>Kowalski</em>), Lithuania (<em>Kavaliauskas</em>), Latvia (<em>Kalējs</em>) and Belarus (<em>Kavalyov</em>);</li> <li>Estonia (<em>Sepp</em>); and</li> <li>Russia (<em>Kuznetsov</em>).</li></ul>
‘Miller’ on top in many Germanic-language countries<p>'Miller' is the most popular occupational surname in many Germanic-language countries, but also in Spain and Ukraine (perhaps because the grain in both countries is mainly in the plain):</p> <ul><li>There's <em>Müller</em> (in Germany and Switzerland), <em>M</em><em>ø</em><em>ller</em> (in Denmark and Norway) and <em>Möller</em> (Sweden);</li> <li><em>Molina</em> (in Spain – the map also shows the most popular surname in Catalonia/Catalan: <em>Ferrer</em>, i.e. 'Smith'); and</li> <li><em>Melnik</em> (in Ukraine).</li></ul>
Clergy surnames rule in the Balkans<p>Catholic clergy must remain celibate, so 'Priest' as a surname is rare to non-existent throughout Europe. Except in the Balkans, where Catholicism is largely absent. Here, the Orthodox and Islamic clergies have passed on the title from father to son, eventually as a surname, to popular effect. Orthodox clergy are addressed as <em>papa</em> or <em>pope</em> (which means 'father' – so the surname rather redundantly translates to 'father's son'). Islamic teachers or imams are known by the Turkish/Persian term <em>hodzha</em>. An overview:</p> <ul><li><em>Popov</em> (in Bulgaria), <em>Popovic</em> (in both Serbia and Montenegro), <em>Popovski</em> (in Macedonia);</li> <li><em>Popa</em> (in Romania); </li> <li><em>Papadopoulos</em> (in Greece); and</li> <li><em>Hodžić</em> (in Bosnia-Herzegovina), <em>Hoxha</em> (in both Kosovo and Albania).</li></ul>
Landowners and other professions<p>Austria and the Czech Republic have different national languages but are neighbours and share a lot of history. Could that explain why they have a similar most popular occupational surname, for 'landowner'?</p> <ul><li><em>Huber</em> (in Austria) and</li> <li><em>Dvořák</em> (in the Czech Republic).</li></ul> <p>Just four professions, that wraps up all but five countries on this map. Those five each have their very own most popular occupational surname:</p> <ul><li><em>Bakker</em> (in the Netherlands): 'Baker'</li> <li><em>Kinnunen</em> (in Finland): 'Skinner'</li> <li><em>Ceban</em> (in Moldova): 'Shepherd'</li> <li><em>Avci</em> (in Turkey): 'Hunter'</li> <li><em>Murphy</em> (in Ireland): 'Sea Warrior' </li></ul>
Even more Smiths<p>Judging from the popularity of these surnames, your generic European village of a few centuries ago really couldn't do without a smithy. It was a much more essential craft even than that of the miller (or the baker, who put the miller's flour to good use) – except in the Balkans, where spiritual sustenance apparently sated a greater need. On the outskirts of <em>Anytown, Europe</em> live the shepherd and the hunter, the skinner and the pirate.<br></p><p>A bit too simplistic? Perhaps not simplistic enough. This map could have been dominated by even more Smiths. As the original poster explains, he always picked the most frequent version of an occupational surname, even if multiple variants point to a more popular alternative. </p><p>In the Netherlands, for instance, people with the surnames <em>Smit, Smits, Smid, de Smit, Smet </em>and <em>Smith</em> collectively outnumber those with the surnames <em>Bakker, Bekker, de Bakker</em> and <em>Backer</em>. So, the Netherlands could be considered another win for 'Smith' – except that the variant <em>Bakker</em> is more frequent than any other single variant.</p><p>Same story in Germany: added up, there are more people named <em>Schmidt, Schmitt, Schmitz </em>and <em>Schmid</em> than <em>Müller</em>. Ditto for Spain: <em>Herrero, Herrera </em>and <em>Ferrer</em> together outnumber <em>Molina</em>. Also in Finland, where <em>Seppä</em>, <em>Seppälä</em> and <em>Seppänen</em> together have a higher count than <em>Kinnunen</em>. </p>
Smiths in other cultures<p>'Smith' was a crucial occupation in other cultures too, judging from the familiar ring it has in these languages:<br></p><ul><li><em></em><em>Demirci</em> (Turkish)</li><li><em>Hadad</em> (Syriac, Aramaic, Arabic)</li><li><em>Nalbani</em> (Albanian)</li><li><em>McGowan</em> (Gaelic)</li><li><em>Faber</em> (Latin)<span></span></li></ul>
Other most popular surnames<p>Take note, though: 'Smith' may be the most popular surname in in the Anglosphere, this map does not mean to show that its variants in French, Russian and other languages also are the most popular surnames in the countries marked grey. They are merely the most popular <em>occupational</em> surnames.<br></p><p>As this sample of most common ones for each country shows, surnames can refer to a host of other things. Personal qualities or physical attributes, for example:</p> <ul><li>Russia: <em>Smirnov</em> ('the quiet one')</li> <li>Turkey: <em>Yilmaz</em> ('unflinching')</li> <li>Hungary: <em>Nagy</em> ('big')</li> <li>Italy: <em>Rossi/Russo</em> ('red', in northern and southern Italy, respectively)</li></ul> <p>Another option: the origin of the name-bearer (be it a place or a person):</p> <ul><li>Sweden: <em>Andersson</em> ('son of Anders')</li> <li>Slovakia: <em>Horvath</em> ('Croat')</li> <li>Kosovo: <em>Krasniqi</em> (refers to the Krasniq tribe and their mountainous home region)</li> <li>Portugal: <em>Silva</em> ('woodland')</li> <li>Latvia: <em>Bērziņš</em> ('little birch tree')</li> <li>Estonia: <em>Tamm</em> ('oak')</li></ul> <p>But sometimes, even for the most popular ones, the exact origin of the surname is lost in time:</p> <ul><li>Spain: <em>Garcia</em> (originally Basque, possibly meaning 'young', 'bear' or 'young bear')</li> <li>Finland: <em>Korhonen</em> ('hard of hearing' or 'dim-witted'; 'village elder'; 'proud'; 'upright'). </li></ul>
Smith popularity theory<p>So why exactly is Smith – and not Miller, for example – the most popular surname in many English-speaking countries? The theory propounded by historian C.M. Matthews in <em>History Today</em> (July 1967) probably also holds for the other-language variants so popular throughout Europe:<br></p><blockquote>"The reason for (the) multiplicity (of the surname 'Smith') is not so much that metal-workers were numerous as that they were important and widespread. On the skill of the smith, both rich and poor depended for the most essential things of life, the tools of husbandry and the weapons of hunting and war. Every community in the land must have one, every castle, every manor; and so distinctive was his trade that he would seldom need another name".<em></em></blockquote><p>That does not mean all people with the surname have a forefather who forged iron into weapons and farm tools. Especially in North America, 'Smith' was adopted by many people precisely because it was already common – as a secret identity or to blend in, for example by natives, slaves and immigrants.</p>
A recent analysis of a 76-million-year-old Centrosaurus apertus fibula confirmed that dinosaurs suffered from cancer, too.
- The fibula was originally discovered in 1989, though at the time scientists believed the damaged bone had been fractured.
- After reanalyzing the bone, and comparing it with fibulas from a human and another dinosaur, a team of scientists confirmed that the dinosaur suffered from the bone cancer osteosarcoma.
- The study shows how modern techniques can help scientists learn about the ancient origins of diseases.
Centrosaurus apertus fibula
Royal Ontario Museum<p>In the recent study, the team used a combination of techniques to analyze the fibula, including taking CT scans, casting the bone and studying thin slices of it under a microscope. The analysis suggested that the dinosaur likely suffered from osteosarcoma, a type of bone cancer that affects modern humans, typically young adults.</p><p>For further evidence, the team compared the damaged fibula to a healthy fibula from a dinosaur of the same species, and also to a fibula that belonged to a 19-year-old human who suffered from osteosarcoma. Both comparisons supported the osteosarcoma diagnosis.</p>
Evans et al.<p style="margin-left: 20px;">"The shin bone shows aggressive cancer at an advanced stage," Evans said in a <a href="https://www.rom.on.ca/en/about-us/newsroom/press-releases/rare-malignant-cancer-diagnosed-in-a-dinosaur" target="_blank">press release</a>. "The cancer would have had crippling effects on the individual and made it very vulnerable to the formidable tyrannosaur predators of the time."</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"The fact that this plant-eating dinosaur lived in a large, protective herd may have allowed it to survive longer than it normally would have with such a devastating disease."</p><p>The fossilized fibula was originally unearthed in a bonebed alongside the remains of dozens of other <em>Centrosaurus </em><em>apertus</em>, suggesting the dinosaur didn't die from cancer, but from a flood that swept it away with its herd.</p>
Dinosaur fibula; the tumor mass is depicted in yellow.
Royal Ontario Museum/McMaster University<p>The new study highlights how modern techniques can help scientists learn more about the evolutionary origins of modern diseases, like cancer. It also shows that dinosaurs suffered through some of the same terrestrial afflictions humans face today.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"Dinosaurs can seem like mythical creatures, but they were living, breathing animals that suffered through horrible injuries and diseases," Evans said, "and this discovery certainly makes them more real and helps bring them to life in that respect."</p>
Join the lauded author of Range in conversation with best-selling author and poker pro Maria Konnikova!
UPDATE: Unfortunately, Malcolm Gladwell was not able to make the live stream due to scheduling issues. Fortunately, David Epstein was able to jump in at a moment's notice. We hope you enjoy this great yet unexpected episode of Big Think Live. Our thanks to David and Maria for helping us deliver a show, it is much appreciated.