For most of us, when we think of illegal things, we think of seriously illegal things — theft, murder, assault, drug charges. There are some laws that seem carved in stone, laws that you wouldn’t in your wildest dreams think of breaking because that would make you a real, seasoned criminal. Well, dig your leather jacket and bad boy attire out of storage because it turns out you may be a criminal, even if you don’t know it yet.
That’s because alongside all those clear, serious laws about things you wouldn’t dream of doing, there are a lot of grey areas. The laws that you know you really aren’t supposed to break, but literally everyone bends them a little bit. The laws that you may not even know about, and break unknowingly (although many of those laws aren’t exactly strictly policed, so you might be okay there). Let’s be serious — unless you’re involved in law enforcement or the legal field in some way, there’s just no way you know the nitty gritty of every single law in existence in every state out there.
Here are 15 illegal things that we bet you’ve probably done in your life, either because they didn’t seem like such a big deal or because you actually didn’t even know they were illegal. Hey, we won’t tell if you don’t.
15. Keeping goldfish in big glass bowls
Goldfish may not be the most popular pet in the world — dogs and cats seem to be a more popular choice with most adults. However, when you think of them, you generally associate them with the big, round, glass bowls that you see them in in so many movies, cartoons, etc. That’s just where you keep goldfish, right? Well, not if you live in Rome. Apparently, in Italy, it’s illegal to keep goldfish in a big glass bowl. It seems like a super random law, yes, but apparently it’s because keeping them in that type of home is considered cruel. Allegedly, the bowl may limit their oxygen flow and cause them to go blind. Who knew? So, if you ever decide to pack up and move to beautiful Roma, you’d better not even think twice about owning a goldfish in an iconic bowl.
14. Wearing heels (in certain places)
When you think of laws that have to do with clothing restrictions, most people think of places where there’s a strong religious presence that requires laws around things like that. However, if you’re in Greece and want to take a tour of some of the historic sights, you’d better think twice about your choice of footwear. Since 2009, wearing high heeled shoes at historic sights is illegal. You can rock your favourite stilettos at more modern spots in town, but apparently the pressure that heels exert on the ground can actually chisel away at some of that delicate architecture that Greece prizes so much — so beware! Luckily, guys don’t really have to worry about that, but now you know — if you’re a guy taking your partner on a dreamy vacation to Greece, make sure she packs some flats for touring those stunning architectural marvels.
13. Singing “Happy Birthday”
You may have heard this one before, but it doesn’t make it any less weird. Thanks to issues to do with copyright and public domain and all that, singing “Happy Birthday” is actually a crime — and not just because you manage to sing it so off-key that everyone’s ears start bleeding. Since the song is copyrighted, it’s actually illegal to perform it in public — that’s why so many movies and television shows opt to skip it in order to avoid having to pay a fee. Now, unless you have a particularly copyright obsessed friend or family member, the chances that someone will find out that you busted out the celebratory song at a backyard BBQ are very slim. However, it is technically illegal. Doesn’t that just make singing the cheesy song sound a little bit more dangerous?
12. Feeding pigeons
This particular law is specific to a city, but if you ever find yourself vacationing in San Francisco, you’ll probably want to know about it. You may have heard that it’s not great to feed the birds in cities where they’re prevalent on the streets because it makes them more aggressive and more prone to bothering people, but in San Francisco, it’s actually illegal to feed the pigeons. You see, the pigeons in San Francisco weren’t exactly chill — they were apparently spreading diseases and damaging property, so the city put a ban on feeding them in an attempt to help combat the problem. So, unless you’re willing to pay a big fine if you’re caught sprinkling breadcrumbs near the Golden Gate Bridge, maybe leave the pigeon feeding for another city where you won’t get punished by the law.
11. Sampling at the store
Most people have never shoplifted — at least, not in the way you think of it. You may have never stolen hundreds of dollars of designer clothing from a swanky department store, but chances are, you’ve shoplifted at least once. And we’re not talking about big ticket items — we’re talking about things that cost a couple of cents. Perhaps you were stocking up on treats from your favourite bulk store and snuck a candy. Perhaps you were buying some grapes and snuck one off the vine before putting it in your shopping cart. There are often signs asking you not to taste the merchandise before you buy it, and you may fully intend on paying for the rest of the item, but still — those little sneaking bites are technically not something you’re supposed to be doing. It may not be anywhere near as awful as stealing something like a car, but still.
10. Going to the bathroom when the seatbelt sign is on (on a plane)
If you’ve ever flown in your life, chances are, you know what the seatbelt sign is — that little symbol that’s lit up when you’re supposed to stay in your seat and turned off when you’re free to roam around the cabin. Well, if you’ve ever found yourself desperately needing to use the facilities because you’ve hydrated just a little bit too much on your long flight while the seatbelt light is on, it turns out it’s actually illegal to get up and use the bathroom. I mean, technically. Chances are, your flight attendant isn’t going to run down the aisle and tackle you to prevent you from going to the washroom if you say it’s an emergency. However, it’s something to keep in mind if you consider yourself a law-abiding citizen.
9. Kissing in public
You know when you’re on vacation with your partner and you’re feeling all loved up, relaxed and full of delicious local food and perhaps slightly buzzed from enjoying some great wine at dinner? Even the most adamant PDA-hater may find themselves planting a smooch on their partner as they wander through the city — but that could be a disastrous decision in some locales. While PDA may not be a big deal in North America, in the United Arab Emirates, PDA is actually illegal. And tourists don’t have a special set of laws — they’re subject to the same laws as a regular resident would be, so your moment of passion could end up costing you more than you had anticipated. Maybe just save the kisses for behind closed doors if you’re feeling amorous in the UAE. We get it, we get it — your partner is super dreamy and you just can’t keep your hands off him or her. Save it, unless you’re feeling particularly dangerous.
8. Using a fake name on social media
At this point, most people know that Facebook doesn’t allow you to use weird, unreal names any more — and there’s a specific reason for that. According to the computer fraud and abuse act, it’s actual illegal to use a fake name on social media. This one is a tricky one, because so many people opt to use a different name, or some kind of variation of their name, on their social media accounts. They want to keep their personal and professional lives separate, perhaps they want to have different accounts for different purposes, etc. Whatever the reason, it’s definitely not uncommon to rock an alternate name online — but maybe think twice next time before you bust out your alias of choice. This one’s another law that’s a bit tough to police, and chances are the majority of people will never face any consequences, but still — you don’t want to be one of the few who actually gets in trouble for it.
7. Claiming your tiny side hustle
If you’re from a certain generation — we’re talking you, millennials — chances are, you know exactly what a side hustle is. It may be the thing related to your true passion, it may simply be a way to earn a little extra cash to pay off those student loans, etc. Now, if you have a legit side hustle that you’re trying to build into your full time hustle, you probably are raking in enough that you need to be diligent about documenting it. However, if you made money by shovelling a few driveways in the winter and selling a few things from the back of your closet, perhaps a few hundred at most, chances are you won’t actually bother claiming that on your taxes because, well, it just seems far too small an amount. Technically all earnings should be claimed, even if you just used the cash for wine money.
6. Eating while driving
After you have a few years of experience behind the wheel under your belt, chances are, you get far more lax about the whole thing. Sure, you still obviously pay attention to the road, but you’re no longer keeping those hands at the strict ten o’clock and two o’clock position. In fact, you may very well just be casually steering with one hand while the other hands out the window or props up your tired head. And, if you find yourself feeling peckish while you’re in the car, you might use the opportunity waiting in traffic to grab a snack from your purse — but that might not be the best idea. The law here varies based on where you are in the world, but in many spots, eating while you’re driving counts as distracted driving. Whoops!
5. Cursing in public
Many of us probably curse a little bit more than we’d like. Sometimes, when you get frustrated or upset or just a little too excited about something, an expletive manages to tumble out from between your lips before you have a chance to stop it. Well, you’d better be careful with your language, depending on what nation you’re in. The Aussies may seem like a super chill bunch, but there are offensive language laws in place in Australia that may just get you in some hot water — as in, a few months of jail time! So, before you find yourself dropping a few choice curse words in conversation in the sunny nation, take a second to reel those words in — any offensive, threatening or violent language and you may find yourself locked up for a short period of time.
4. Keeping your Christmas lights up too long
Okay, we had to include this one just because it’s so bizarre. Let’s face it — many of us are procrastinators, and chances are, you’ve had a situation at least once or twice where you realized it was already February (or maybe later) and you still had all your holiday decor up. Well, in most places, unless you have particularly nosy neighbours, this probably wouldn’t really be a big deal at all. If you live in Maine, though, you’re in for a world of trouble. That’s because in the tiny, scenic state, it’s illegal to have Christmas lights on the outside of your home beyond January 14. That’s right — you have roughly three weeks to make sure all those charming lights are completely off your house — or else! Sounds like there may be a Grinch making laws over in Maine!
3. Stopping on the Autobahn
Many people who have been driving for a while have had the experience of running out of gas. Perhaps you were in a rush and just didn’t want to make another stop somewhere, perhaps you were on a long stretch of road somewhere foreign and the next gas station ended up being further than you thought it would be, whatever. It happens. However, if you’re travelling through Germany, you’d better make sure it doesn’t happen when you’re speeding down the Autobahn — at least, not if you want to stay on the right side of the law. The Autobahn, a government controlled highway system that lets you zoom at high speeds, has a caveat for use — you’re not allowed to run out of gas. It can apparently get you a fine for endangering other drivers. They may have a bit of a point — when people are driving that quickly, a stationary car could definitely cause an accident.
2. Streaming television shows/movies
Okay everyone knows you’re not supposed to do it, but most people have done it at least once. Listen, sometimes, you just want to watch a movie and don’t quite want to spend the money to rent it online or buy it. Sometimes, you’re super curious about a particular television show, but don’t really want to fork over the dough to get HBO. So, in times like that, many people turn to streaming. I mean, yes, DVDs aren’t exactly the most expensive things in the world, but sometimes you just don’t want to spend the money, or you want to get in on the conversation surrounding a particular television show without having to wait for it to come out on DVD. Yes, if you’re patient, chances are you’ll be able to find it for free legally at a library or something like that — but humans aren’t always patient.
1. Using someone else’s WiFi
Listen, we totally understand — sometimes, you just need WiFi. Maybe you’re out of data and don’t want to pay an arm and a leg for more. Maybe you only have your tablet and desperately need to check your e-mail. Maybe you just need to check out a video ASAP and don’t want to waste all your data on downloading such a big file. Whatever the case, your WiFi needs are pressing — so you grab the WiFi from a residence or business somewhere nearby. After all, if they didn’t bother to password protect it, it’s basically fair game, right? Not quite. Unauthorized use of WiFi service is technically illegal, so maybe just wait until you get home to check out that corgi video or bite the bullet and use up data rather than swiping someone else’s WiFi.
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