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Text 4. Laws of the past

Different countries had different laws in the past. Sometimes these laws were strange, or at least they seem now to be strange. The following information illustrates some peculiar laws adopted in various countries years ago.

Everyone knows that in the times of Peter the Great in Russia noblemen weren’t allowed to have beards. If they were against the law, or they didn’t obey it, and still wanted to keep their beards, they had to pay a special tax to the Tsar’s government.

Some singular laws were introduced in eighteenth-century England. How strange it might seem now, people had to pay “window tax” for each window in their house. Later, this law was changed because many poor people chose to live in houses without windows just so that they didn’t have to pay. Another law was no less funny. If you traveled in any motor vehicle in nineteenth-century Britain, the law said that someone had to walk in front of you waving a red flag, or at night time a red lamp. This meant, in practice, that you couldn’t travel at more than about 8 kilometers per hour! Some other British laws concerning social behaviour were very strict. For example, until recently pubs in Britain weren’t allowed to stay open all day. They opened at eleven in the morning and had to shut again at three in the afternoon. In the evening they closed at half past ten. On Sundays the laws were stricter.

The USA are also famous for their quite odd laws. For example, in Illinois animals could go to jail, in Florida you had to wear clothes in the bath, in Kansas you were not permitted eat snakes in public, in North Carolina you could not drink milk on train, in Idaho you could not buy a chicken at night without the sheriff’s permission. Such bizarre laws originate from the fact that each state was ruled by its own government, which enacted laws according to political, economical, or religious reasons. Geographical position and natural resources might also influence legal rules. Modern feminist-oriented women would be struck to know that in the 19-th century, female teachers in the USA couldn’t get married, or even go out with men. If they got engaged, they had to resign from their job immediately. Male teachers, on the contrary, could get married and have children without any problem! Or in Montana it was a criminal offense for a wife to open a telegram sent to her husband. However it was perfectly acceptable for a husband to do the same.

One more curious law in the Midwest of the USA in the 1880s was that you were not allowed to eat ice-cream sodas on a Sunday. Restaurant owners managed to solve this problem by serving ice-cream without soda, which became known as a “Sunday” or a “Sundae”. In the beginning of the 20-th century drinking of alcoholic beverages was prohibited in the USA. A new word –“prohibition”- appeared: it meant that you could not produce or consume alcoholic drinks. Prohibition was not popular, and it was too expensive to make sure that the law was obeyed. So later the prohibition law was changed, because it was causing terrible crime, and people were drinking more alcohol than they had done before! Prohibition amendment was the only repealed amendment to the US Constitution.



Some American laws served their function at some point of time, but outlived their usefulness. However, they are still on the books…may be because no one can be bothered to get rid of them. In Michigan, for example, a woman is breaking a law if she cuts her hair without getting her husband’s permission, because in this state a man legally owns his wife’s hair. Similarly, in Kentucky lady must have her husband’s permission to buy a hat.

These days the state laws are becoming more and more similar across the country, but there are still different laws in different states concerning age limits for driving cars, getting married, having guns, etc.

In other European countries there were also many unusual laws which arose from country’s policy of that time. For example, during the French Revolution, people could not use the polite form of “you” (“vous”), because this was the word servants used to speak to their masters. Instead everyone had to use “tu”, the familiar form. Or in Italy in the 1930s when Mussolini ruled the country, Italians weren’t allowed to use foreign words. That’s why Italian is one of the few languages which doesn’t use the international word “football”: they use their own word “calcio”.


Date: 2015-12-24; view: 1351


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