The people of the United States, as you surely know, are some of the proudest and most fiercely patriotic you’ll ever meet. They’ve got a darn good reason to be, too.
Founded on July 4 1776, it’s quite a young country in a global sense. Perhaps they don’t have a super-long and established history, but they have something that few others on the planet can rival: the sheer variety of sights, sounds, scenery and lifestyles on offer.
The states of the U.S. are just so dramatically different. The built-up and bustling New York and the wide, sweeping desert land of Nevada are worlds apart. At times, they could be on different planets entirely.
The various states, as we also know, have conflicting views on all manner of subjects. State laws are a fascinating case study, as they also vary wildly from place to place.
Some of them made perfect sense in the context of their time, but seem archaic and ridiculous to us now. Others are just plain bizarre, whichever way you slice it.
Here’s a pop quiz, then: where in the U.S. is it illegal to send a pizza to somebody’s home without telling them it’s coming? Where is it legal to wrestle bears? Which state allows policemen to bite dogs (yes, you did read that right)? If you’re not sure, you needn’t worry. We’re here to enlighten you.
Buckle up for 25 Things That Are Illegal In America (And We Can’t Understand Why).
25 Sending A Surprise Pizza To Somebody’s Home (Louisiana)
We’re going to kick this party off the right way, with a law that I just can’t possibly understand. Personally, I can’t imagine any greater joy in life than a takeout pizza arriving at my door that I didn’t pay for. In fact, one time, the neighbor’s Domino’s order accidentally came to my house instead, and I… wait, no, forget I said anything. I did not do that.
Oddly, though, the people of the Pelican State do not take kindly to surprise pizza orders. As reported by The Huffington Post, sending a pizza to somebody’s home without their knowledge is a misdemeanour that can carry a fine of $500.
24 Eating Fried Chicken With Cutlery? Not In Our City! (Gainesville, Georgia)
So, yes. Some of us are super serious about our fried chicken. Others, meanwhile, are super, super serious about their fried chicken. The people of Gainesville, Georgia definitely fall into the latter category.
The so-called poultry capital of the world has a law (more of a PR stunt, really, but a law all the same) which states that you’re not allowed to eat fried chicken with anything other than your fingers.
Back in 2009, The Gainesville Times reported an incident that saw 91-year-old Ginny Dietrick land herself in hot water for using a knife and fork.
It was more of a practical joke (she’s friends with a Gainesville resident), and Gainesville Mayor Myrtle Figueres didn’t charge her with anything (“You are required to come back to Gainesville often and are required to eat lots of Gainesville chicken,” she told Dietrick), but still. This was a real thing that happened.
23 Police Officers Biting Dogs (Paulding, Ohio)
Now, I’m not entirely sure how we arrived here.
Let’s take a step back for a moment. You know that technique some parents like to employ when their child’s having a tantrum? The one where they imitate the noises their child’s making back at them, until the little one realises they’re not going to win and stops?
There’s a similar thing at work here, I think.
Whatever the logic, this also appears to be a thing: In Paulding, Ohio, police officers are legally allowed to bite dogs. However, Just Something explains, they have to do so in the belief that this will calm the dog down.
22 Chickens Crossing The Road (Quitman, Georgia)
Ah, yes. There’s no more iconic joke than why did the chicken cross the road, is there? So many punchlines have been suggested for this joke. Silly ones, serious ones, satirical ones, philosophical ones… it just never ends.
The simple to get to the other side, something a little more highbrow like “Ludwig Boltzmann: If you have enough chickens, it is a near certainty that one of them will cross the road,” a different variation on the theme… people have put far too much thought into this one over the years.
We all know that, but did you know that in Quitman, Georgia, it’s illegal for chickens to cross roads? Just Something reports that this is one of those strange throwbacks that’s still in effect.
21 Long Bingo Games (North Carolina)
It’s interesting to consider how some of these things may have come about, isn’t it? For our next entry, we’re crossing over to The Old North State, South Carolina.
It’s a place famous for its association with the Wright brothers (hence the motto First in Flight), the huge and magnificent Biltmore Estate, the jovial nature of its citizens, and… well, an intolerance for overly-long games of bingo.
That’s right, friends. According to The North Carolina Miscellany, “For certain organizations in North Carolina, bingo games can last only up to five hours. The state’s administrative code even contains a few more explicit restrictions on the game: only one in a 48-hour period and no more than a $500 prize.”
20 Giving Your Partner A Box Of Chocolates Over A Certain Size (Idaho)
If you have a partner with a heckola of a sweet tooth, like I do, you’re probably no stranger to buying surprise candy/chocolates. This isn’t a Louisiana pizza, after all, so surprises are totally fine. And are sure to be very welcome, too.
You’ve got to take care with that sort of thing, though, because that chocolate box you lovingly bought? You’d better have weighed it first. For reasons best known to… well, somebody, somewhere, Idaho has a law in place about that sort of thing. Apparently, there, it’s “illegal to give your sweetheart a box of chocolates weighing more than 50 pounds.”
19 Wrestling Bears (Oklahoma)
Now, see, this is where a little culture shock hits me. As a Brit, I can tell you that we really don’t have much around here in terms of interesting and exotic wildlife. Any spider larger than about half an inch is considered monstrously huge, and we’ve no natural predators beyond overzealous mailmen (who could, conceivably, do a little damage to your postbox as they thrust your mail through).
As a result, I can’t help but conclude that the fact that it’s illegal to wrestle bears in Oklahoma (as reported by The Huffington Post) suggests that everyone else in every other state spends their days doing so. America, I admire your chutzpah.
18 Chasing Greased Or Oiled Pigs For Fun And Profit (Minnesota)
Now, doesn’t that just sound like a perfect title for one of those self-help books?
Were you one of those rebellious, rules-are-made-to-be-broken children back at school? The one who would feel like they were hardened criminals for chewing a couple of candies in the library, despite the fact that the no eating rules was written right there on the wall? You fearless renegade, you.
The thing about a lot of the laws we’re seeing in this rundown is, they’re so old, so rarely enforced. Minnesotans still hold greased pig contests, despite the fact that the law states, “No person shall operate, run or participate in a contest, game, or other like activity, in which a pig, greased, oiled or otherwise, is released and wherein the object is the capture of the pig…”
Turkey scrambles, a similar sort of affair, still take place too, as the Justicia Law Blog demonstrates.
17 The Great Train Impossibility (Kansas)
Now, speaking as a frequent train commuter, I can tell you that the railway systems of the world have more than enough darn issues as it is. Just about every time I arrive at the station, there’s some kind of delay or cancellation riling up passengers.
There are always about ten people taking photos of the arrivals board, just to prove to their bosses that heck no, I won’t be able to get into the office until… well, around July by the look of it.
If you thought you had it bad, spare a thought for the people of Kansas. There, as The Huffington Post explains, “A poorly-worded law states that if two trains meet on the same track, neither shall proceed until the other has passed.”
16 Feeding Garbage To Pigs (Arizona)
Well, granted, this one’s a bit of a grey area. As much as that pig would total appreciate that garbage that you were going to… well, throw in the garbage, you’d better be darn careful about feeding your porcine pal.
You can do so, technically, but you’ll need a special permit first. Otherwise, you’re totally out of luck on the piggy-garbage front.
The good news is, Thrillist explains, this isn’t a black-and-white issue, and there are exceptions. Did you intend to feed your own household waste to your own pigs? Well, that, you can totally do, permit or no permit. Knock yourself out.
15 The Old Snowball Story (Rexburg, Idaho)
Now, this one’s another curious case. The supposedly-harmless activity of throwing snowballs and snowball fights has been controversial around the world.
As a spokesman for the police in Britain once said, “The main thing to consider is the circumstance. Throwing snowballs in general is not a crime, but if snowballs are thrown which cause injury or permanent damage then that could be a criminal matter. It's no different to throwing stones, I would argue.”
You may have heard that, in Rexburg, Idaho, it’s illegal to have snowball fights or generally throw snowballs. This isn’t quite the case. As Thrillist explains, it’s illegal to do so there in a manner intended to cause harm or damage.
14 We Don’t Take Kindly To Road Rage Around Here (Maryland)
As all drivers know, owning a car and a license can be a real double-edged sword of a life skill. On the one hand, it’s incredibly liberating, and will be invaluable just about every day of your life. On the other, it’s expensive, it can be dangerous, and it can test your patience like nothing else on earth.
Traffic jams? Other drivers doing silly things? It’s just infuriating. You’ll want to keep the profanity in check if you’re driving in Maryland, though, because, according to Thrillist, there’s a law against “using any profanity while driving. Or, more specifically, while “near any street, sidewalk or highway within the hearing of persons passing by, upon or along such street, sidewalk, or highway.””
13 Fishing With Your Bare Hands (Indiana)
Fishing, in my experience, is a serene, relaxing, almost therapeutic sort of pastime. Of course, Jeremy Wade of River Monsters doesn’t seem to have gotten that memo, but he’s a special case. Most of us are unlikely to be messing with the kinds of catches that he reels in.
Otherwise, yes. Sometimes you come back from a day’s fishing with next to nothing to show for it, but had a good relaxing time nonetheless.
Do you know what’s not relaxing? Trying to catch a fish with your bare hands, or fishing with a firearm. I’m not sure how much success you’d have there, but you needn’t worry if you live in Indiana. Neither of these practises are permitted there.
12 Firing A Catapult (Aspen, Colorado)
Or, you know, a slingshot. Whichever term you prefer. Either way, the whole thing makes me super nostalgic for my school days, when we’d mess around with these simple wooden weapons, Dennis the Menace style. It was a simpler time.
Are slingshots even still a thing? They are for some, I’m sure. Over in Aspen, Colorado, Reader’s Digest reports, a curious old law states that owning a slingshot is just fine. Discharging it, on the other hand? You’d better not get any fancy ideas about doing that, buddy. Oh, heck no.
Firing at people, vehicles or buildings is strictly forbidden by law.
11 ‘Fancy’ Bicycle Riding (Illinois)
We’ve all seen it (or done it ourselves) countless times: sauper-impressive bike stunts. You know the sorts of things. Wheelies, the old classic look-ma-no-hands thing. Do you remember putting a little piece of cardboard or a peg in your wheel’s spokes, so it would make a sort of engine sound as you rode? No, that’s probably just me being super old.
Anyway, the important thing is, you’d better darn well cycle responsibly in Galesburg, Illinois. As Reader’s Digest states,
“Galesburg city law strictly prohibits “fancy riding” of any bicycle on city streets, particularly riding with both hands removed from the handlebars, both feet removed from the pedals, or “any acrobatic” shenanigans on your fancy velocipede. According to a Galesburg police officer, “I suspect the trick riding ordinance came during a time or concern about bicyclist safety and perhaps crashes involving bicyclists.””
10 You Can Only Sell Pickles If They Bounce (Connecticut)
In my experience, pickles tend to be a food that people have strong feelings about, whether pro or con. When you make a McDonald’s order, you often make darn sure that your precious pickle is in that burger, or make darn sure that it’s keep far, far away from your food.
In Connecticut, they certainly have views to share on the whole pickle thing. As per Reader’s Digest:
“A pickle cannot be sold unless it bounces. According to a 1948 article, this law became a necessity after two scheming pickle packers tried to sell pickles “unfit for human consumption” on the sly. Connecticut’s Food and Drug Commissioner at the time proclaimed that a real pickle “should bounce” when dropped from the height of one foot, leading to a new state regulation.”
9 Mechanically Changing The Weather (Colorado)
This one’s just a little too technical for me, I’m sure you can grasp it. What do I mean by ‘mechanically changing the weather?’ Well, like most things, it’s all in the name of making money.
As Business Insider explains, “Colorado ski resorts pay private companies to burn silver iodide on the slopes. The material carries into the clouds and stimulates precipitation, which creates a fresh sheet of powder for skiers.”
You can’t just go ahead and whip out some of that silver iodide you’ve got lying around, though. Colorado law requires a special permit to do so, in an attempt to minimise damage to the environment.
8 A Strict Trick Or Treating Curfew (Delaware)
The concept of Halloween and trick or treating is familiar to all different countries and cultures around the world. Many are for it, many are against it, just like anything else. That’s just the way of the world.
The people of Delaware’s Rehoboth Beach aren’t quite sure how they feel about the whole idea, though. Being a little conflicted, they arrived at a compromise. Children can trick or treat, sure, but there’s a catch. As Reader’s Digest explains, in order to prevent “mischief of any sort,” they may do so only between the hours of 6pm and 8pm.
Should Halloween fall on a Sunday, said trick or treating must take place the day before instead.
7 Being Injured By Rampaging Llamas (Georgia)
Again, I can’t quite imagine living anywhere where attacks from errant llama owners’ animals could be a thing, but there it is.
In Britain, where I live, the most you’re likely to see is a donkey at a seaside resort. You can ride them, sure, but you’re not exactly taking your life in your hands when you do so.
Over in Georgia, llamas are a little more commonplace, and a little less predictable. Here’s a curious piece of llama-related legislature, as Business Insider puts it: “Those engaged in llama-related activities, such as riding, training, or goofing around at a county fair, are responsible for any personal injuries they suffer.”
However, the owner could still be liable is the injured person was simply “watching from an authorised area.”
6 Deception With Margarine (Iowa)
Do you know why I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter was called I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter? It’s because –get this!—it’s not actually butter. It sure as heckola tastes like it, but nope. If it wasn’t called that, how would you even know?
It’s enough to shake your entire belief system, isn’t it? Worry not, though, because the people of Iowa understand how you feel. According to Business Insider,
“Anyone trying to pass off margarine as real butter is guilty of a misdemeanor under food-labeling laws in Iowa. "Renovated butter" must also be labeled as such.”
5 Owning one of these *AND* Driving It On Public Roads
If you own a smaller car, you might well feel just a little intimidated when a huge truck passes close to you on the roads. You might not like to admit it, but there it is. One wrong move, and they could’ve crushed you into a postage stamp.
That’s bad enough, but what if there were goshdarn tanks on the roads? Here’s the thing about that: there totally could be. Awesome Inventions states that tanks on public roads are completely illegal… unless “you have rubber tires and appropriate mirrors [in which case] it’s perfectly legal to own a tank and to drive it on public roads.”
4 Keeping The Coolest, Grizzliest Of Pets
As I say, then, Britain doesn’t have the most interesting wildlife. The countryside is beautiful, yes, with those iconic rolling hills and such, but when you compare the native animals with those of somewhere like Australia, I can’t help but feel that we got the less exotic end of the stick.
Kangaroos, koalas, kookaburras and duck-billed platypuses? Well, in Britain, we’ve got… rabbits, and the occasional badger. Badgers can grow pretty darn big, it’s true, but it’s hardly the same thing.
Over in America, meanwhile, it’s the bears you have to watch out for. They’re swiping pic-er-nic baskets all across the United States as we speak. Even more alarming than that, however, is the fact that (as reported by Awesome Inventions) it’s legal to keep a brown bear in nine states.
3 Checking A Person’s Shoe Size With A Fluoroscope (Nevada)
As I’ve already mentioned, Nevada is a vast, stunning state, boasting some of the most beautiful natural wonders you’ll find anywhere. On the other hand, it’s also the home of Las Vegas, that festival of bright, flashing neon, huge casino-hotels and… well, you know. As a wise philosopher once said, bright light city gonna set mah soul, gonna set mah soul on fiyah.
One fancy, flashing device that the people of Nevada will not stand for is the shoe-fitting fluoroscope. For reasons supposedly related to possible radiation, its use was made a felony in Nevada. I suppose people can just measure their feet the old old-fashioned way.
2 Do *NOT* Text And Drive. Ever (West Virginia)
Now, it’s only in recent years that the smartphone phenomenon has taken hold. Many of us can still remember a time when people… you know, actually had conversations. These days, you’d be lucky if anybody on public transport would notice if your hair was on fire, because they’re all staring at their phones.
As such, laws around the world have had to adapt to meet this new threat, particularly in the case of motorists. Drivers using cell phones in West Virginia were not subject to primary enforcement until 2013 (to wit: the police needed another reason to stop them), which is a little frightening.
1 Oh, That’s Just The Neighbors, Firing Missiles Again (South Carolina)
Right. So. I’m feeling a little conflicted again. This one just raises so many questions.
We’ve already seen that Colorado comes down pretty darn hard on slingshot users. You’re not discharging that thing around these parts, buddy. Put that pebble down now.
With this in mind, I’m just a teensy bit surprised by this law, as per Awesome Inventions: “In South Carolina, you can legally fire a missile, as long as you first ask permission from the department of commerce.”
What kind of payload are we talking here? What does and does not constitute a missile? I don’t know these answers, and I’m not sure I want to.