Seven peculiar rules imposed on the French

April 16, 2013

This item from a French government directive details how to plant trees. On the left, it shows the minimum width the sidewalk must remain after planting, and on the right, it shows the height at which the tree must be trimmed.

France, along with some neighboring countries such as Italy and Greece, is increasingly being overwhelmed by a host of norms, rules and directives. Over the past two decades, the number of legal dos and don’ts has become so great that businessmen and economists warn they are smothering growth just as the continent tries to dig out of its worst slump in a generation.

Here is a sample of some of the directives the French government has imposed on its citizens:

1) All signs whose posts arise from the sidewalk must be replaced, freeing the sidewalk to a width of 1.28 meters to allow for the passage of two wheelchairs going in opposite directions.

2) Similarly, letterboxes or other wall-mounted boxes must not stick out over the sidewalk, lest a blind person walk by and bump into them.

3) Only a government-certified specialist may open fuse boxes or change light bulbs on city-owned property, which means in practical terms that City Hall would have to call in an electrician every time a bulb goes out.

4) The school cook must precisely divide meals so that kindergarten pupils eat only half an egg, primary school pupils eat one egg and junior high or high school students eat an egg and a half. Other foods must be weighed to comply with similarly detailed norms — 180 grams of paella in kindergarten, for instance, and 250 in primary school.

5) Access for handicapped people must be guaranteed in all public buildings, no matter when they were built, with entrance ramps at carefully measured grades. A nearby chateau transformed into a hotel and restaurant would have to destroy or cover centuries-old stone stairs to comply.

6) The ramp leading up to an unusual bell tower on Albaret-Sainte-Marie’s 16th-century stone church, which has a dramatic view over the Truyere Valley, must be replaced because its bars are horizontal and rules stipulate they must be vertical.

7) A five-page directive orders the local City Hall to take detailed steps to restore unusual pearl-bearing mussels in the Truyere River, which have been extinct for decades.

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Max Fisher · April 16, 2013