Books? Hairdressers? Europeans split on lockdown essentials

In Belgium, of course, chocolate shops are staying open. “Chocolate is very much an essential food around here,” said chocolatier Marleen Van Volsem at the Praleen chocolaterie south of Brussels. “It has to be. Because chocolate makes you happy.” Happiness would seem no subject to split hairs about. Yet consider […]

In Belgium, of course, chocolate shops are staying open.

“Chocolate is very much an essential food around here,” said chocolatier Marleen Van Volsem at the Praleen chocolaterie south of Brussels. “It has to be. Because chocolate makes you happy.”

Happiness would seem no subject to split hairs about. Yet consider how differently Italy and Britain treat a service that gladdens many a heart.

In the country that coined the term “bella figura” — the art of cutting a fine figure — hairdressers are deemed essential.

“Italians really care about their image and about wellness,”″ said Charity Cheah, the Milan-based co-founder of TONI&GUY Italy. “Perhaps psychologically, the government may feel that going to a salon is a moment of release from stress and tension, a moment of self-care, that citizens need.”

But across England people have had to scramble to get their hair done in the last days and hours while they still could, before new pandemic restrictions came into force on Thursday.

“The thought of another lockdown and being stuck at home — (people thought) I’m going to throw caution to the wind and I am just going to come in and have my hair done,” said Richard Ward, managing director at the Richard Ward Hair and Metro Spa on London’s swank Sloane Square.

And then there are life’s finer pleasures.

In France, the love of books is unquestioned. No country has more Nobel Prize-winners in Literature, and a book review program on TV like Apostrophes used to be watched by millions every week. But walk the streets of Paris and you will find bookshops closed.

Sylvia Whitman, who runs the famed Shakespeare and Co. bookstore on the Left Bank, seethes at the prospect of giant online platforms gobbling up business while her shop is shuttered. Her sales have dropped 80% since the the spring lockdown.

“I find it really tiring that the bigger you are the more you can ignore laws, you can avoid taxes, you can find loopholes,” she said. “The smaller you are, the more expensive and the more complicated things are. “

Across the border in Belgium, books were deemed essential. Even then, Wouter Cajot, owner of the ‘t Stad Leest in the port of Antwerp finds it a mixed blessing. The lockdown has reduced passing shoppers to a trickle and he will have to decide whether heating and personnel costs make it worth his staying open.

But when essential goods cannot be bought in a store they can still be delivered.

“During the first lockdown we had to invent a website in three days and nights,” said Cajot, and he got “new logistical equipment — a cargo bike,” to the delight of his Antwerp clients who get books delivered within hours of placing their order. “So why order books at an international online giant when the corner bookstore can deliver same-day by bike?”

That’s also become a question of government policy. With small shops often forced to suspend operations, and drifting closer to bankruptcy as a result, the door is wide open for supermarket chains and online giants to pounce. Several countries have taken steps to ensure supermarkets during lockdown cannot sell many products that provide the livelihood of closed shops.

It can get very complicated, with some supermarkets forced to tape off sections of their merchandise. In Belgium, Christmas decorations which took weeks to set up may now be hidden from view, since retail stores cannot sell them, as they are deemed non-essential.

“Books and magazines are allowed,” said Harry Decraene, manager of a Carrefour department west of Brussels. “DVDs, CDs and games are not allowed. Sewing equipment is allowed, stationery is allowed, garden equipment can be sold. Pots and pans, toys and Christmas supplies are not allowed.”

Just as toys would seem essential for children, petanque — France’s traditional outdoors game that involves mostly elderly players tossing metal balls with leisurely accuracy — might be considered a must for the country’s retirees.

There is nothing quite like the petanque grounds of the Provencal village of Saint-Paul-de-Vence, where the likes of actors Yves Montand and Lino Ventura would click their balls on the dirt. Now they’re deserted, as the government opined that petanque is not essential.

“It’s a leisure activity, we can do without it,” said Sandrine Leonard, who manages the local tourism information center. Now that dead leaves provide the color the sun usually does, “it’s more a period to stay quietly at home, to do some cooking. We spend less time outdoors. Hence the importance of having a good book.”

But wait! Bookshops are closed.

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John Leicester and Oleg Cetinic contributed from Paris, Virginia Mayo from Antwerp, Belgium, Sam Petrequin from Brussels, Frank Jordans from Berlin, Colleen Barry from Milan.

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Follow AP pandemic coverage at https://apnews.com/hub/virus-outbreak

In this Oct. 23, 2020 file photo, a waiter clears a table at a cafe in Piazza Navona Square before the start of a curfew. In times when a pandemic unleashes death and poverty, the concept of what is essential to keep society functioning in a lockdown is gripping Europe. What may stay open in one country may be designated as non-essential just across the border. (AP Photo/Alessandra Tarantino, File)

Credit: Alessandra Tarantino

Credit: Alessandra Tarantino

In this Monday, Nov. 2, 2020, a customer picks up a magazine in a supermarket in Gex, France. French supermarkets will be prohibited from selling books, make-up, clothes and other goods considered as non essential as smaller businesses have been forced to shut down amid virus lockdown. (AP Photo/Nadine Achoui-Lesage)

Credit: Nadine Achoui-Lesage

Credit: Nadine Achoui-Lesage

In this Wednesday, Nov. 4, 2020 file photo, Richard Ward, owner of Richard Ward Hair & MetroSpa wears a protective face mask as he works in his salon in London. Britain is preparing to join large swathes of Europe in a coronavirus lockdown designed to save its health care system from being overwhelmed. Pubs, along with restaurants, hairdressers and shops selling non-essential items will have to close Thursday until at least Dec. 2. (AP Photo/Alberto Pezzali, File)

Credit: Alberto Pezzali

Credit: Alberto Pezzali

Owners of ‘t Stad Leest, Wouter Cajot, right, and his partner Sofie Van der Ven, pose in the middle of their bookstore in Antwerp, Belgium, Wednesday, Nov. 4, 2020. In times when a pandemic unleashes death and poverty, the concept of what is essential to keep society functioning in a lockdown is gripping Europe. Bookstores and florists in Belgium have been designated as essential shops. (AP Photo/Virginia Mayo)

Credit: Virginia Mayo

Credit: Virginia Mayo

Women perform manicures and pedicures on customers in a beauty center in downtown Rome, Friday, Nov. 6, 2020. In times when a pandemic unleashes death and poverty, the concept of what is essential to keep society functioning in a lockdown is gripping Europe. What may stay open in one country may be designated as non-essential just across the border. (AP Photo/Alessandra Tarantino)

Credit: Alessandra Tarantino

Credit: Alessandra Tarantino

Makis Sifneos, mechanic and owner of a motorcycle repair shop works in Athens, Greece, Friday, Nov. 6, 2020. In times when a pandemic unleashes death and poverty, the concept of what is essential to keep society functioning in a lockdown is gripping Europe. What may stay open in one country may be designated as non-essential just across the border. (AP Photo/Thanassis Stavrakis)

Credit: Thanassis Stavrakis

Credit: Thanassis Stavrakis

Christos Lampropoulos, owner of a laundry and dry-cleaning shop, works at his shop in Athens, Greece, Friday, Nov. 6, 2020. In times when a pandemic unleashes death and poverty, the concept of what is essential to keep society functioning in a lockdown is gripping Europe. What may stay open in one country may be designated as non-essential just across the border. (AP Photo/Thanassis Stavrakis)

Credit: Thanassis Stavrakis

Credit: Thanassis Stavrakis

In this April 20, 2020 file photo, a Volkswagen car dealer is open in Essen, Germany. In times when a pandemic unleashes death and poverty, the concept of what is essential to keep society functioning in a lockdown is gripping Europe. What may stay open in one country may be designated as non-essential just across the border. (AP Photo/Martin Meissner, File)

Credit: Martin Meissner

Credit: Martin Meissner

A woman wearing a protective face covering walks past an advertising window of a closed shop in London, Friday, Nov. 6, 2020. Britain’s lockdown started Thursday, shuttering restaurants, hairdressers and clothing stores until at least Dec. 2. (AP Photo/Frank Augstein, File)

Credit: Frank Augstein

Credit: Frank Augstein

In this Thursday, Nov. 5, 2020, a box with food slides down to a car from a window of the apple cider restaurant in ‘Zum Lahmen Esel’ in Frankfurt, Germany. Due to the new partial lockdown to avoid the coronavirus spread the restaurant which has been in operation since 1807 offers cider and food to take-away in a self-made drive through set up. (AP Photo/Michael Probst, File)

Credit: Michael Probst

Credit: Michael Probst

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