Weird Drinking Laws in Europe

Europe's storied bonds to alcohol have led to a few bizarre drinking laws that seem puzzling to outsiders—and those living in said continent...

I wrote an article awhile back on weird American drinking laws, and, while there are more than enough to fill a second list, it's time to look across the pond at Europe. Europe has a long, storied history, which stretches back to the era of Imperial Rome to Imperial Britain. A lot of Imperialism, it appears. 

Still, alcohol and drinking seems intertwined with European history to such an extent that the two are impossible to separate. Fantasy writers often draw from Medieval Europe when crafting their fantasy worlds, and, more often than not, throw their characters into a pub. Italy and France are known for their wines. German pubs are almost a joke nowadays. And Scottish and Irish pubs--forget it.

Europe's storied bonds to alcohol have led to a few bizarre drinking laws that seem puzzling to outsiders (and those living in said continent), so it is important to shed light on these bizarre laws that seem intent on restricting the fun release of a night of drinks.

UK - Illegal to be Drunk in the Pub

I have no idea how one is expected to enforce this law.

Pub culture is a big deal in the United Kingdom. Anyone who has taken a trip there knows that, in every town, there's a pub that serves good food and better drinks. It's at once a social meeting ground and a way to converse with your neighbor.

It is also, apparently, illegal to be drunk.

Again, this law is seldom if ever enforced, but it does exist. It is an antique law from the Medieval era that, for whatever reason, has never been eliminated. Presumably, this is because the Brits themselves forgot it's even a law. Imagine being an old enough country where you start to forget your own laws...

Scotland - Illegal to Ride a Cow While Drunk

Sometimes I question the need for certain laws. They seem so particular and so bizarre.

In Scotland, it is illegal to propel a cow while intoxicated. Propel is a vague phrasing, so that includes both forcing cattle to stampede, riding a cow, and, presumably, strapping a jet pack on said cow's back with the intent of flying them to the moon.

No doubt this law came about after a few Scotsmen rode their cows into town after throwing back too much ale. Probably led to some property damage. A few crying maidens. Maybe something worse. I wish I was there to see it.

Again, as it is now less likely for a Scotsman to own a cow than it had been when this law was created, this law is seldom enforced. Unless it's a really, really slow night.

Sweden - Only the Government Can Sell Alcohol

In America, the idea of government regulated anything is met with often undue aggression. Government issued healthcare? "THAT'S ONE STEP AWAY FROM COMMUNIST RUSSIA!"

I wonder how Americans would react if the government took control of alcohol sales, as it is in Sweden. In Sweden, only certain government-funded stores can sell alcohol with an alcoholic content of 3.5% or higher. 

These stores are called Systembolaget, and sell alcohol for incredibly high prices. This is because much of the money goes to the government.

Many Swedes drive down to their neighbor Germany to buy far cheaper alcohol, which begs the question why the government doesn't try competitive pricing. Capitalism may have a few points, here...

France - You Cannot Drive Without a Breathalyzer

The Breathalyzer is something of a terrifying device in America. We associate it with drunk drivers, death, and jail time. You're doing a good job if you never see a Breathalyzer (unless you are an officer, in which case you need to catch all the drunk drivers you can, please).

But, in France, Breathalyzers are a necessity for everyone. You cannot drive a car unless you have a Breathalyzer on hand. 

Now, what is odd about this law is that the French don't take it too seriously. No fine is administered if you don't have one on hand, and it's not like the police will pull everyone over to check their glove compartment for a breathalyzer, so many French people just... don't bring one with them on trips. 

Still, the law is quite bizarre. I mean, what are the French going to do? Convince officers they aren't drunk by giving themselves a Breathalyzer test with a device that might very well not work?

Germany - Riding a Bike While Drunk is a One Way Ticket to a Psych Ward

Psychological review often comes only when someone does something particularly unorthodox. Like torturing animals or blasting Vanilla Ice songs in 2017. 

If you're traveling to Europe, you would be justified in assuming that urinating on the Eiffel Tower and stalking Bjork are also pretty weird.

In Germany, however, it's far easier to get thrown into a psych ward. It is illegal to drink and ride a bicycle. If one is caught riding a bicycle while intoxicated, one will not only be fined but forced to undertake a psychological review.

Unlike a lot of other laws here, there is a clear reason why this is the case. Bicycles constitute a vehicle, and it is illegal to operate a vehicle while drunk. However, unlike cars or trucks, drunk bicycling was seldom punished, which led to several accidents involving drunken bicyclists plowing into civilians or public property or other vehicles.

The German government tightened its restrictions on all those drunk cyclists by increasing the fine for biking under the influence. The psychological review was added, perhaps, as an extra dose of humiliation for those caught, as well as a mean for an individual to take a look at their life choices up until that point. 

UK - Bring a Barrel of Rum to the Constable

An old tradition that survives to this day (to the delight of everyone involved), is the law that every ship who comes to the Tower of London must pay a fine of one barrel of rum. 

This is an old tradition dating back to the Medieval Era. It was referred to as The Constable's Dues, where, a ship could not pass through London without giving the Constable at the Tower of London a barrel of fine rum.

It's a sign of friendship, which remains a tradition to this very day.

Of course, if you work at the Tower of London, would you really ever oppose this law? European drinking laws may sometimes come across as odd, but why would you ever want to eliminate a law where people need to give you a barrel of rum? That sounds like the greatest law conceivable!

Turkey - Election Day--No Drinking

Some Americans may be familiar with this law, too. In Turkey, the sale of Alcohol on Election Day is a big no-no. It is illegal to drink or sell alcohol on Turkey's Election Day.

This law was set up to instill a sense of respect and reverence for Turkey's election process. Of course, it stands to reason that someone who lost the election would probably want to get as plastered as possible. 

No doubt there are lines outside the local pubs of all the politicians who lost who need a drink to drown the sorrows of their defeat. 

Of course, certain states in America do have similar laws, as stated in my other article. So this law is just odd in that both this country and another country both share the same, silly laws.

France - No Alcohol other than Beer and Wine is Allowed at Work

Typically speaking, work isn't a place you really are allowed to drink. I mean, you can, but you're probably breaking a couple laws if you're sneaking a bottle to sip on under the table.

And France acknowledges this. They know it's irresponsible to drink on the law, so they have a law stating that it is illegal to have alcohol in the work place...unless it's beer or wine. 

Yes. Beer and wine--that's okay. Being drunk on the job is obviously irresponsible and a no-no, but it isn't illegal to have a beer break or a glass of wine to relieve some stress.

Seems a little peculiar, honestly. I don't understand any circumstances where I would feel comfortable uncorking a bottle of wine while at my computer writing, but, then again, I'm not French.

Italy - Illegal to Drink in Public in Rome... in Groups of Three or More

Now, public drinking is a very controversial matter. It isn't illegal in most places to drink a bottle of wine in an outdoor restaurant, for example, but it is illegal to go around in the streets of town with open beer.

The same is true in most of Europe. There are things that are acceptable and aren't acceptable with public alcohol consumption. Though sometimes it's a little vague what is and isn't acceptable.

Rome has a very specific set of rules that irons down on any vagueness. It is illegal to drink in public in the city of Rome... in groups of three or more. 

Presumably, this means that, if you are a lonely individual, drinking by yourself, then yes, you are fine. You can hobble around the streets chugging beer, and you're justified in doing that. But three people in a social event, drinking? You're getting a fine.

But it isn't just drinking. You can't eat outdoors in a group of three or more, nor can you sing and dance. Which means that it's probably illegal to film any musicals there.

Scotland - Underwear Under Your Kilt? Two Beers

This is my favorite European drinking law. I'm not ashamed. I love this one.

As many people know, the kilt is a Scottish skirt worn by men. It's a sign of utter masculinity over there. Typically, you're supposed to wear just a kilt on your lower half, which means your testicles and butt are bare. 

This is partially so, should you want to humiliate your enemy, you can draw up your kilt to show your butt to the enemy. Or your dick. One of the two. Either way, that's supposed to rile up the enemy, and show how few f***s you give about them.

A True Scotsman never wears underwear under his kilt. And the law makes sure you wear nothing below... in the most delightful, awesome way possible.

In Scotland, if you have underwear under your kilt, you will be fined two beers. I am not kidding. You better be willing to split a few cans if you are afraid to not go bare-skinned into combat (or into a bag pipe march). 

I adore this law. 

It is so freaking Scottish.


Miranda O'Conner
Miranda O'Conner

Body positive blogger, freelance sculpture, self-proclaimed connoisseur of whiskey, and forever in search of a hamburger as delicious as the ones you see in food commercials. Wendy's just doesn’t cut it.

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Weird Drinking Laws in Europe