10 Completely Normal Things That Are Banned in North Korea

North Korea is the most closed and secretive country in the world, but that doesn’t mean we don’t know anything about it. When it comes to North Korea, many of us know that the country is different from others. Its citizens must comply with peculiar laws and are not allowed access to certain websites or communications. Most North Koreans probably don’t even know they live in a restrictive state because they don’t have access to outside information. Here are 10 things you do every day that are prohibited in the closed country.

Related: 10 Horrifying Tales From North Korea’s Prison Camps

10 using the internet

Can you imagine a world without internet? Or someone telling you which websites you can and cannot access? Probably not, since the world as we know it is centralized on the web. We are constantly finding new and interesting information to improve our lives by browsing it. Unfortunately, not everyone has this luxury.

It is against the law to use the global Internet in North Korea. The government has strict controls over the Internet, only allowing a select few government officials, scientists, and students access to it. For everyone else, the government controls how it’s used and has its own state network called Kwangmyong.

The Internet is seen as a threat to the North Korean government because it is a tool that can be used to connect people from all over the world. It allows sharing information and exchanging ideas. This is something the North Korean government does not want its people to have access to. Citizens are even restricted in accessing their phone. They want to keep their citizens isolated from the rest of the world. [1]

9 Smiling

Everyone loves a smile. But what if there were laws about when you could do it? Sound crazy? Believe it or not, it is against the law for North Koreans to smile on July 8, the anniversary of Kim Il-sung’s death.

Due to his cruel and murderous ways, it is believed that the late leader would have been upset if he saw people smile on his birthday or any other celebration of his life. If citizens break the law because of this rule, they could be sent to concentration camps or even pay with their lives. The same goes for being loud, drinking, or having a birthday party. So whatever you do, don’t smile on the 8th of July.

The current leader, Kim Jong-un, has also begun an 11-day mourning period for his late father, Kim Jong-il, on the 10th anniversary of his death. During this time, North Koreans were prohibited from laughing, drinking, and shopping (or other leisure activities).[2]

8 Watching TV

Watching a soccer game with friends, snuggling up to a good movie, or just channel surfing are all things we love to do. Can you imagine having only one program to choose from? I guess that would eliminate the argument many couples have about what to watch. But hey, we all like options, right?

North Koreans are not allowed to watch foreign television or even listen to foreign radio. Like the Internet, they have their own state television. Anything other than official North Korean media is prohibited, as doing so would expose them to Western culture. In fact, it is illegal to own a television or radio that even has the ability to tune to anything other than the official North Korean media. Can you imagine seeing the same thing all the time?[3]

7 driving

What if you had to walk everywhere? That doesn’t sound fun.

Can you believe that North Korea only allows one in a hundred people to own a vehicle? It’s true. Even then, if you’re a woman and you need to get somewhere, you’re out of luck, unless you have a male escort. Women are totally prohibited from driving, even if they are working as traffic officers.

There was a time when women were even forbidden to ride a bike in the city. However, that restriction has been lifted and women can make use of limited transportation. But although they can now ride a bike, many women still work primarily at home, taking care of their families. Those who work are concentrated in local commerce and markets, while their husbands work in state jobs.[4]

6 Leave the country

Speaking of travel, don’t plan on leaving at any time either. The North Korean people cannot just go where they want; they are essentially stuck in the country. Any travel must be approved by the government. There have been few who have made it out, and many have lost their lives in an effort to escape. The few that do make it out usually have to pay a third party to smuggle them out of the country. Even then, it’s risky. If caught, they and their entire family could be sent to prison concentration camps or even killed.[5]

5 wearing jeans

Fashion is a very important part of who we are as individuals. It allows us to express ourselves in many ways. We have the freedom to dress as we want. However, not everyone in the world has this freedom. The President of North Korea has decided that skinny jeans are out of the question and skinny jeans cannot be worn in North Korea. Because they resemble a form of Western civilization, they are prohibited.

If you break this fashion rule, you will be taken to court, where you must confess your crimes in writing. He will only be released when someone brings him something appropriate to wear, and his employer will be notified. The same goes for dyed hair and piercings. Patrols in Chongjin City even target popular youth spots to try to catch people red-handed in their crimes.[6]

4 Talking on phone

Making an international phone call could get you killed in North Korea. Sadly, a North Korean factory manager in South Pyongan province was executed by firing squad in a stadium in front of 150,000 spectators in October 2007. The offense was for making international phone calls.

Apparently, he had 13 phones installed in the basement of his factory to make international calls. Six people were killed and 34 others injured when a stampede occurred as the crowd was leaving the stadium.[7]

3 Choosing your profession

Okay, so maybe not all of us get the dream job we fantasized about as kids. But North Koreans really don’t get to choose. Upon finishing high school for the first time, all citizens must join the military. Men stay for 10 years and women stay until the age of 23. After military service, they are assigned their life’s work.

Work assignments are not subject to negotiation and mostly consist of agriculture and livestock. Other jobs consist of street sweepers, factory workers, transit workers, and teachers. All employees are supposed to work a 48 hour work week and only have Sundays off. Once in 2016, the entire country, apart from the elite workforce, had to work 70 days straight due to a government order in an effort to boost the economy.[8]

2 Get a new haircut

From time to time, everyone loves a new look. It’s good to change it from time to time, right? For the North Koreans, not so much. They have exactly 28 haircuts to choose from.

Women have 14 styling options, and most of them are shorter, as it is customary for married women to have shorter hair. Men are not allowed hair longer than two inches (5 centimeters), and spiky or dyed hair is prohibited because it is not considered a “socialist hairstyle.” If a person got a style that is not on the approved list, they would be expressing anti-socialist behavior.[9]

1 Talking nonsense about the government

How many times do we criticize or criticize the way our government does things without giving it a second thought? This is not something that happens in North Korea without severe punishment.

All North Koreans living under Kim Jong-un’s rule must swear allegiance and allegiance to him, his family, and the state. Those who threaten or even insult the Supreme Leader or his family will be imprisoned or even executed. This also applies to visitors. American student Otto Warmbier was arrested at Pyongyang International Airport while waiting to leave North Korea as part of a tour group. He was arrested for stealing a billboard from his hotel room. North Korea saw this as an insult, he was jailed and died after being released in a vegetative state in June 2017.

It’s been said that the country is a bit like the show The Handmaid’s Tale, which is set in a dystopian future. Although North Korea is one of the most isolated and secretive nations in the world, there are some things we do know. So the next time you’re upset about what might sarcastically be called a first world problem, reread this list and be thankful you don’t live in North Korea.[10]

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