Your life experiences will be unique no matter where you come from, but growing up in the land of opportunity leads Americans to become accustomed to certain ways of life. Like it or not, it’s no surprise to see a McDonald’s on almost every corner, ads for the latest video games at bus stops, and more ketchup packets than you could ever use coming with your fast food.
It’s easy to get so used to seeing these things that we only really notice them when they’re absent. Yet depending on where you go in the world, you may start to notice that sights you always saw in the States are nowhere to be seen.
Oftentimes, this simply boils down to different cultural preferences and customs. Sometimes, however, there was a specific act of government keeping that familiar thing out of reach.
Today, we’re going to be looking at 13 examples of bizarre bans from other countries. Many have since been lifted, but it’s still odd to think that governments throughout the world would have such a serious problem with something we all but take for granted.
1. Greece banned all video games back in 2002.
The law was intended to crack down on illegal gambling, but legislators apparently didn’t know the difference between electronic gambling devices and video game consoles, so citizens were prohibited from playing any electronic game in public.
Fortunately for Greek gamers, the law was declared unconstitutional before the year was out in a landmark case that would have seen two internet café owners face three months of jail time for letting customers play Counter-Strike.
2. China banned video game consoles for 15 years.
The move was apparently supposed to “protect Chinese youth from wasting their minds on video games” but seemed to only create a $100 million market for online gaming.
The Chinese government finally lifted the ban in 2015 after a successful “economic reform” experiment in Shanghai but maintains a watchful eye over any content that would “harm national unity … [or] violate public morality.”
3. You won’t find a McDonald’s in Bermuda.
This is because of the 1977 Prohibited Restaurants Act, which blocks any foreign restaurant chains from operating in Bermuda and imposes either six months of jail time or a $5,000 fine for trying to open such a franchise.
The only exception is the single KFC restaurant in Hamilton, Bermuda because it opened in 1970 and was grandfathered in.
4. Cell phones were banned in Cuba until 2008.
Actually, it’s more accurate to say they were restricted to employees of foreign business and state officials under Fidel Castro’s leadership. His brother Raúl decided to lift the restrictions after he assumed power.
5. In Iran, you have to say goodbye to your mullet.
The nation’s cultural ministry released a list of approved hairstyles and targeted “decadent” haircuts like ponytails or mullets. A violator’s first offence would result in a forced cut and repeat offenders would face fines.
Moreover, police could shut down any barbershop that helped someone achieve their prohibited look.
6. A Russian bill almost banned emo culture.
Legislators considered emo a “dangerous teen trend” that could “encourage depression, social withdrawal, and even suicide.” So, they moved for strict regulations on emo websites and to bar emo and goth fashions from schools and public buildings.
However, the bill apparently died and no legal restrictions against emo culture ever became a reality.
7. Singapore banned chewing gum for 12 years.
Singapore’s first prime minister, Lee Kuan Yew, wanted the city state to be an oasis of perfection in Asia, and his policies had a particular focus on public cleanliness. He saw the habit of sticking gum everywhere as an enemy of progress and was apparently worried that people would jam the doors of subway trains with the stuff, so he pushed for its ban in 1992.
Writer Tom Plate said that gum is now “largely legally chewable” thanks to a 2004 reform allowing pharmacists and dentists to sell therapeutic gum, but most Singaporeans still don’t bother chewing it.
8. The Chinese government does not like stories about time travel.
While initial reports described the policy as an outright ban, Professor Nie Wei at Shanghai University said it amounts to strongly worded guidelines for television and movie producers.
The government’s beef with time travel apparently has to do with the “bizarre” plots involved that treat “serious history in a frivolous way.”
9. China banned all references to the Jasmine flower in 2011.
The Chinese government removed videos of their president singing about the flower from the internet, banned the sale of them in Beijing, and even blocked text messages with the word “jasmine” in them. This left the flower’s growers with falling prices and limited options for buyers.
But why did they do this?
When the government of Tunisia was overthrown, it was known as the Jasmine Revolution. Anonymous calls for a similar revolt in China appeared over the internet, which led the government to consider the flower a dangerous symbol of subversion.
10. The French government heavily restricted ketchup in school and college cafeterias.
The condiment is only allowed on French fries and those are only to be served once a week in cafeterias as part of government programs to promote healthy eating. All school cafeterias must keep records for health officials of what has been served and ensure their menus meet state approval.
For kids who crave ketchup, their only option is to go home for lunch because French students aren’t allowed to bring home-prepared lunches with them.
11. Scrabble was banned in Romania during the ’80s.
Apparently, then-dictator Nicolae Ceausescu considered the game “overly intellectual” and “a subversive evil.”
12. Taiwan banned plastic shopping bags before it was cool.
The bags’ harmful effects on the environment have led organizations across the world to start phasing them out, but Taiwan put their ban in place back in 2003. However, their Environmental Protection Administration eased some restrictions in 2006 and allowed food service operators to offer them again.
13. Celebrating Valentine’s Day is prohibited in Saudi Arabia.
The kingdom’s religious police strictly enforce the holiday’s ban. One year, five men were imprisoned and lashed for dancing with women they were not related to in celebration of the day.
Despite the harsh penalties, some shop owners will sell traditional Valentines. However, these shops will only do so over the phone and also hide their red roses in the back of their stores.