I'm going to credit a stray Twitter rant from Tally Heilke (@tallystreasury; I linked to her site once here and here it is again) for what's about to happen here. See, around this point of the year, Tally gets wrapped up in preparation for the annual run of Desert Bus For Hope, the 8th annual edition of which commences November 14th at noon Central (10 AM Pacific, given that it is conducted in Victoria, British Columbia). She is the prizes and sponsorship coordinator, handling the myriad objects that come in to be auctioned off and used for giveaways (think raffles) during Desert Bus, many of which she has solicited herself through a "Craft-Along", in which people apply (to her) for the right to make crafts projects to be used to raise money. And it also requires juggling all the various sponsors of the event, many of which generate their own items to be given out.
This all requires a workload ranging from crippling to apocalyptic. You will note that in the list of the 16 main Desert Bus crew members, Tally is one of only five given an e-mail address to handle, and the only one to be handling two of them. (Most of those people will be actually driving the eponymous bus during the telethon, taking a 12-hour shift apiece. For the last two runs, Tally has been one of them.)
A fair-sized chunk of this work requires heavy use of the Canadian mail system, Canada Post. This, I wager, is how she found herself shuffling through Canada Post's directory of instructions for shipping to international locations. Specifically, she found herself fascinated by the kinds of items various places prohibit the import of through the mail. (The American equivalent directory is here.)
Soon I did too. Damn it, Tally.
As she noted, "There must be sensible and/or historical reasons behind most of these, but without context some are very strange." She noted ice as an example, which among other places is banned from being imported into Afghanistan, Albania, Antigua and Barbuda, Bulgaria, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Croatia, Ethiopia, Fiji, Liberia, Moldova, Mongolia, Namibia, Nepal, Nigeria, Oman, Russia, Serbia, Seychelles, Uzbekistan, Vietnam, Zambia and Zimbabwe. I never found the reason myself (it'll drive me nuts not knowing), nor did I manage to find most of the others. Context-free is how they'll have to remain. But that having been said, and noting that there are absolutely things I've missed along the way (and also noting that we are not looking at restricted items but only ones that are banned outright):
*Canada bans margarine or butter substitutes. They also ban beekeeping apparatuses- a lot of countries are concerned enough about bees and bee paraphernalia to ban its import; considering the threat of killer bees and invasive species, nothing really unusual there- but Canada Post specifies that it's used beekeeping tools that are banned.
*Being American, I might not note anything unusual in the American list, but Tally, being Canadian, latched onto "knife, gaff, or any other sharp instrument attached, designed, or
intended to be attached to the leg of a bird for use in an animal
fighting venture" and "written, printed or graphic matter advertising or promoting animals for use in animal fighting ventures in any way." She knows why- boo to dogfighting and cockfighting and whatnot- but it struck her as odd that we'd go so far out of our way to specify that.
*France, in the same way, got my attention for banning the mailing in of "dura mater (the tough fibrous membrane covering the brain and the spinal cord and lining the inner surface of the skull)".
*Serbia bans "diplomatic mail". Which is a thing that carries legal protections from being tampered with, diplomatic immunity in fact, even if sometimes that protection gets abused by someone using it to smuggle drugs (and oh yes that happens). You open that stuff and whatever country owned it will be instantly pissed off, such as here, when the United Kingdom was angered at one of their pieces of mail being opened by Spanish police at the border with Gibraltar. And it's right here in Canada Post writing that you can't mail it to Serbia.
*Austria, France, Greece, Italy, Portugal and Spain ban "Rubber erasers that are similar in appearance to food products that are easily ingested".
*Belgium bans you from mailing in chain letters. People still do those outside of Facebook?
*Many countries, most in fact, make some sort of restriction on mailing in currency, or checks, or other kinds of financial instruments such as credit cards or even lottery tickets. Mongolia, meanwhile, just goes ahead and bans "pulp of wood". Which basically means anything made of paper.
*Russia bans the import of birth, death or wedding certificates. (Among soooooooo many other things. For instance, you may not send information about subsoils to someone for personal use.)
*Kenya bans the import of maps. Peru scales it back to "cartographic or geographic items misrepresenting Peru and its borders" (which makes slightly more sense as countries do tend to get rather uptight about what land they consider to be theirs and bristle when someone else begs to differ).
*Peru also bans "drinks manufactured under the brand name "Pisco".
*Brazil bans mailing in writing material. So you can write the letter, but don't you dare include the pen.
*Namibia bans the import of sports equipment.
*Mexico bans the mailing in of massage appliances. ...yes. That's what they're used for. Massages. Sure.
*Please do not mail piranhas to Brunei.