In Europe, different countries have different definition of ‘essentials’

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.

Beyond the obvious - food stores and pharmacies - some answers in the patchwork of nations and cultures that make up Europe can approach the surreal. What is allowed on one side of a border can be banned just a brief stroll down the road, on the other.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel said that while it might seem fairest to just shut everything down, "it's perhaps not the most practical" solution.

"If people are only satisfied when everything possible is shut down, then that's a view which naturally doesn't make economic sense," Merkel said.

That's why Germany is keeping car dealerships open this time, after their closure in the first, spring lockdown hurt the country's huge automobile industry.

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.

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