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We humans make laws. There are more of them in existence now than at any other point in history. And more often than not, the odd, archaic or dumb ones are easier to leave on the ledgers than to bother voting away. They sprinkle the law books of the world for no apparent reason other than to serve as punch lines for schmoozing lawyers.
Here in Argentina, the situation is no different. Let me show you what I mean:
If you’ve been to Rosario on a hot day and seen a horse without a hat on, you should have gone to the police – it’s required there that caballos cover their head when the weather hace calor. Gauchos are free to do as they please.
And if you had trouble finding an open bar after midnight on Saturday 27th June, it’s because you can’t sell alcohol in Argentina on elections day. Which of course, no anarchic Argentine would consider obeying. And good on them, if everyone obeyed the law DJs would be mandated to play at least as many tango records as all other kinds of music put together, so no one would go the boliches anyway.
Not that you’re allowed to miss the polls with a hangover. It is required by law that all Argentines vote. Anyone who didn’t trek to their local school last month to twist the knife in the Kirchner dynasty is liable to pay a $150 fine. The kicker? The fine is in Pesos Argentinos, which haven’t existed in almost 25 years.
(One more failed currency in Argentina’s dark history of rampant inflation, the Peso Argentino only lasted for two years, from 1983-85 and was replaced by the Austral at an exchange rate of 1000:1. Not to be outdone, in 1991 the Austral was traded in for the contemporary Peso at a staggering rate of 10,000:1, meaning that the fine is literally impossible to calculate and is never enforced.)
Of course Argentines wouldn’t pay anyway. According to the New York Times, the first compulsory poll nearly destroyed the nascent republic. “An old style Latin-America revolution in Argentina is now quite as unlikely as in the United States,” writes Charles Grandpierre in an article dated 17th November 1912, just weeks after the first vote. “But if ever that country was near having one was when an attempt was made to bring into court thousands of citizens liable to a ten-peso fine for not having appeared at the polls.” I guess they learned their lesson – it’s easier to make Argentines riot than make them vote.
But if rioting is the most popular street activity in Argentina, kissing is a close second. Your correspondent was unable to ascertain whether this is because Argentines are just really passionate or because they all live with their parents and have nowhere to go. Queries were met with confusion and in some cases, anger. Regardless, public displays of affection were apparently such a problem in the town of Escobar, just north of the capital, that city officials had it banned.
And they weren’t the only legislators with the Moral Duty on their minds. In Buenos Aires, feather beds are officially illegal. The reason? At some point, prudish lawmakers thought that “such an indulgence induces and encourages lascivious feelings”. They were probably just jealous they weren’t spending any nights in the hourly hotels, Mark Sanford notwithstanding.
Speaking of pigs, the gripe porcina has caused its own share of odd legislation. In April, the director of city cemeteries for Buenos Aires decreed an ordinance requiring anyone who died of the flu to be cremated immediately, and without formalities. He rescinded it shortly thereafter, when he realised that it was silly.
And if all these mostly useless laws have got you riled up and you feel like trying to change any or them, you’re going to have to go a lot farther than the Congreso. Since 1987, the legal capital of Argentina has actually been the city of Viedma. Located in far off Patagonia, Viedma has a population of only 50,000 and anyone who wanted to start cleaning up the ledgers would have to start there. Looks like the weird laws are here to stay.
With thanks to Hugo Passarello Luna of Argentina Elections (www.argentinaelections.com) and Martín Beyries.
Top 10 Weird Laws From Around the World
10. It is illegal to die in the British Houses of Parliament
9. In Wichita, Kansas the way a man treats his mother-in-law may not be used as grounds for divorce
8. It is illegal in Massachusetts to have sex with a rodeo clown in the presence of horses
7. In Headland, Alabama, no women dressed in a nightshirt is allowed to be taken for a flight in a private plane
6. At Trinity College in Ireland, no student may enter the grounds unless he be wearing a sword and may at anytime during an examination demand a glass a wine, which must be brought to him providing he is wearing his sword
5. In London, it is illegal to flag down a taxi if you have the plague
4. In France no person may call a pig Napoleon
3. Pensioners in Chelsea, England, may not be impersonated
2. In British Columbia, it is illegal to kill sasquatches
1. In Indiana, no person may grow a moustache if they have the “tendency to habitually kiss other humans”.