5 Normal Family Activities That Are Illegal in France

Want to take a paternity test? Nope. Straight to jail
5 Normal Family Activities That Are Illegal in France

France’s official motto is “Liberté, égalité, fraternité.” They’re a little iffy on the liberté part of that, at least by the standards of places who really care about freedom.

For example, France bans public school students from wearing religious symbols. Plenty of places worldwide respect the separation of church and state (that’s why a recent Louisiana law forcing schools to display the Ten Commandments will be struck down), but banning individual kids from wearing crosses or yarmulkes is nuts. In the U.S., it would be unthinkable to have any national law on what schoolkids can wear. Dress codes are implemented by schools themselves, not by the federal government, and if a public school tries banning kids from wearing religious symbols, someone would sue and win. 

But several strange French laws concern families and kids, banning such reasonable concepts as...

Paternity Tests

Slept with a couple different guys and want to know which one of them knocked you up? Slept with a woman who’s now pregnant and want to be sure you knocked her up? You can find out the answer using a paternity test. You can get one done in a clinic — or even at home, though we aren’t super confident about those mail-in ones.

Unless you’re French, that is. In France, a court may order a paternity test as part of a legal proceeding, but short of that, they forbid citizens from testing paternity. If you live in France, even traveling abroad and getting a paternity test there might get you a year in prison when you return home. 

DNA test

Drew Hays

“Vous want the truth? Vous can’t handle the truth!”

Courts upheld the ban to preserve the “peace of families” and so as not to “upset the French regime of filiation.” In other words, they ban paternity tests for fear of encouraging divorce. But if a husband and wife believe that they have a good reason to divorce, we should probably let them make that decision. Plus, plenty of people who want paternity tests aren’t even married.

We have to assume this ban was created by a bunch of Frenchmen with mistresses who wanted plausible deniability no matter who gets pregnant. 

Naming Your Kid What You Like

In France, courts can rule that parents named their child wrong and order the name changed. In 2015, for example, a court learned that parents were naming a child “Nutella,” and the court renamed the girl “Ella,” to spare her from derision. 

Poking around online, it seems a lot of people think this is a good idea, but then, a lot of people online are fascists. Why are we supposed to trust French government when it comes to deciding what names are okay? A court stopped another couple from naming their daughter “Fraise,” and that name’s just fine. The court stopped that couple because “Fraise” is the French word for “strawberry,” but we refuse to back down. That name shouldn’t be illegal.


Robin St

Ooh, kids would tease her for being... sweet? 

In America, in 1972, a Wisconsin couple named their daughter Marijuana Pepsi Jackson. No court stopped them. Yes, some kids teased her, but others were jealous of her. She chose to retain the name when she became an adult. She went on to get a doctorate, writing a dissertation on how names shape perceptions. 

Changing Your Surname

But suppose Marijuana Pepsi Jackson grew up and wanted to change her name. That should be her right, of course — not because it’s a weird name but because any adult should be allowed to change their name, for any reason. No one owns you, so you should be able to name yourself whatever you want. 

In France, however, there is no simple process for changing your last name. You can petition a court to change your name, if your motive matches one of the few acceptable ones, but you can’t just fill a form and change your name because you feel like it. These acceptable motives include having an embarrassing name, but also wanting to switch to a relative’s name, to stop that family name from dying out. 

Pierre d'Hozier

Laurent Cars

Basically, that one’s a privilege for those who want to preserve nobility. 

You may notice one reason missing from that list, and it’s the most common reason anyone changes their last name: getting married and wanting the same name as your spouse. In France, you can change your “common name” to match your spouse, but your legal surname will remain unchanged. And sure, wives taking their husbands’ names isn’t universal anywhere anymore, but a fair number of people still want to. Ask around if you don’t believe us.

Disinheriting Your Children

In most places, if you die without a will, your money goes to your next of kin, but you can instead write a will leaving your money wherever you like. Not in France, where you must leave money to your children, no exceptions. 

If you have children, one section of your estate (“la reserve”) goes to them, and you have no say in the matter. If you have one child, that kid is guaranteed half of what you leave behind. If you leave two kids, they each get a third, and if you leave more than that, they all split a share equal to three-quarters of your estate. The remainder is called la quotité disponible, and that’s the only part you can will to whomever you like.

This law may sound like it’s designed to make sure the deceased’s children are taken care of, whenever possible. It really dates back to the French Revolution. The revolutionaries sought to divide aristocratic fortunes among a larger number of heirs, to gain political support, as part of their long-term plan to murder a bunch of people. 

Execution of Louis XVI

via Wiki Commons

We’re having trouble making that sound bad, because guillotines have become fashionable again.

Many places around the world have similar laws protecting offspring who are still minors, but once the kids are all grown up and independent, parents are usually allowed to cut them off. Most parents don’t, while those who do might have good reasons. Sometimes, you want to cut ties with your ungrateful children. Some kids are dicks. 

Swimming Trunks

You may have heard tales of French nude beaches, where every part of your body can go proudly on display. From these, you might think France is a lot more free than other countries when it comes to what you can wear when swimming. But you may be surprised to learn that if you’re a man at a pool, it’s not merely permissible to show off your genitals when swimming. It’s mandatory. 

When you go to a French pool, you are not allowed to wear swimming trunks. You instead must wear swimming briefs, or what we’d call a Speedo, giving everyone a proper look at the contours of your bulge. This rule applies to all male swimmers, adults and children alike. 

men in pink and blue swimming briefs

Jas Rolyn

If you aren’t willing to show yourself off like this, you have to stay home, sorry.

Public pools ban trunks for the sake of hygiene. If men could wear larger sorts of swimwear (claim the French), men might plop into the pool wearing the same shorts they wore all over the city, and that would be gross. Even mandating that men change before entering the pool would not be sufficient, because guys may be wearing dirty underwear under their dedicated trunks, and pools don’t want to deal with that filth. No, the only solution is to make men change into a fresh pair of Speedos, perhaps bought from the nearby vending machine. These leave no room for a layer of unvetted underclothing — or for the imagination.

We understand that line of reasoning, but it’s stupid. Even though we take a courtesy shower right before leaping in the pool, guess what? Once we’re in there, we’re all going to be squeezing secretions out from every inch of our skin. It’s inevitable. Someone’s peeing in the pool, almost constantly — if you say no one is, you’re in denial. Pools had better be equipped to clean a lot more than just the mild residue that may line some cotton, or we’re all in a lot of trouble. 

Women, too, must wear skintight swimsuits at French pools. And if you want to wear an appropriately tight suit that happens to cover your whole body, too bad: Most French cities ban that, because France considers those too Islamic. On the other hand, if you want to show off much more of yourself and wear a thong, nope, pools ban that as well. So, it doesn’t matter want you personally want. Everyone loses. 

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