Weird Things That Have Been Banned (And Why)

The number and variety of things that have been banned is pretty astonishing. . (Photo: file404/Shutterstock)

Why would anyone attempt to ban coffee? As crazy as it sounds, it was banned not just once, but five times — most recently in 1777 in Prussia. Frederick the Great banned the good old cup 'o Joe because he thought drinking the stuff interfered with people's consumption of beer — and he thought beer was better.

Of course we all have our personal tastes and peccadilloes — I abhor celery with a passion bordering on irrationality — but I don't think the revolting vegetable should be banned (except from my fridge). I recognize many other people enjoy its crunchy greenness and have a right to it. But throughout history, plenty of things as ordinary as coffee — or celery — have been banned.

Kinder Surprise candy eggs

A personal favorite of mine, I always pick up these chocolate eggs that have the toys inside (often little plastic animals you assemble from smaller pieces) when I travel to Mexico or Central America, savoring them for a week or longer upon return to the United States. But these seemingly harmless novelties are banned in the U.S. because of a rule established in 1938: They could be a choking hazard for kids. Some people have even been detained for bringing them back into the U.S., though I'm not sure if this knowledge will keep me from doing so because I'm obsessed.

Weird baby names

I love my unusual name, so it strikes me as kind of sad that some countries regulate what names a parent can bestow upon their offspring. Denmark goes as far as to keep a list of the 7,000 allowed baby names; if you want to name a kid something else, you have to get approval from the church. But plenty of other countries have lists of banned names, like New Zealand banning Stallion and Brazil banning Saddam Hussein.

Chewing gum

In Singapore, the importation or sale of gum is illegal unless you have a medical reason, which means it's almost impossible to get your hands on any. It's not just chewing gum that's not allowed — spitting and littering involve significant fines as well. If this all seems a little heavy-handed, keep in mind that Singapore is considered one of the world's cleanest cities — maybe that's what it takes to get people not to make a mess of public places.

Dancing in nightclubs

A law passed in 1948 bans dancing in Japan after midnight, which is pretty surprising considering the country has plenty of cities with world-famous nightlife scenes. The ban was enacted after World War II when dance halls in Japan were sometimes a front for prostitution. While the ban has been enforced more in some decades than others, lawmakers are now working to officially relax the ban in time for the 2020 Olympic Games to be held in Tokyo.

Ponytails and mullets for men

Iran issued a list of appropriate men's hairstyles in 2010, and because mullets and ponytails (and spiky 'dos) are considered "Western" hairstyles, they have been banned. Hair gel is allowed, but if a barber shop is caught giving a banned cut, the shop owner could get fined.

Plastic bags

First banned in Bangladesh in 2002 (because plastic bag litter clogged up sewage systems to such a degree that streets were flooded), many other countries made the wasteful carriers illegal to give away with purchase. In the U.S., there's a bag ban in American Samoa and Puerto Rico, and more than 100 other municipalities, including the state of California (implementation state-wide is pending a ballot initiative this November) and most of Hawaii. This is the only ban on the list I can get behind, because plastic bags wreak such havoc on ocean ecosystems.