Three Days in Bruges, Belgium - RetireBook

Etiquette in Belgium

Beautiful Places In Belgium / September 23, 2020

Location:Western Europe, bordering France 620 km, Germany 167 km, Luxembourg 148 km, Netherlands 450 km

Capital: Brussels

Climate: temperate; mild winters, cool summers; rainy, humid, cloudy

Fleming 58%, Walloon 31%, mixed or other 11%

Religions: Roman Catholic 75%, Protestant or other 25%

Government: federal parliamentary democracy under a constitutional monarch

Languages of Belgium

Official Languages of Belgium are French, Dutch and German. Wallon is used by 33% of population. Flemish, the local variant of Dutch, is used by more than 60% of the population, and is spoken in the northern part of the country. The languages learned at school are officially labelled French and Dutch. German, spoken by 1% of population can be found in the cantons in the east of the Wallon region. Brussels, the capital of Belgium, has two official languages: French and Dutch. Luxembourgish is spoken by around 0.5% of the population, but the language has no official status. About 10% of the Belgian population are non-native, and languages spoken include Italian, Spanish, Greek, Arabic and Turkish.

Belgian Society & Culture

Belgium is not a homogeneous country with one national identity. As such, it is therefore difficult to give a general overview that applies to all Belgians. Each area will have its own particularities. The three predominant cultures are: 1) in north, Flanders - primarily Dutch, 2)in the south, Wallonia - primarily French and 3) the northeast - primarily German influenced. The following are brief aspects that are applicable to all areas.

Belgian Family Values

  • Family plays a central role in most Belgians' lives.
  • The obligation to the family is a person's first priority.
  • Many people remain in the town in which they were raised, which creates close extended families.

Appearances Matter

  • Appearances are important to Belgians.
  • They can often be seen washing the pavement or steps in front of their house or even sweeping the street.
  • Cleanliness is a matter of national pride.
  • Belgians take great pride in their houses. To have overgrown hedges or untidy gardens would disgrace the family and insult their neighbours.
  • Belgians take pride in their personal appearance too. They dress well and are concerned with the impression they make on others.

Egalitarianism in Belgian Society

  • Belgium is on the whole an egalitarian society.
  • Women are not expected to change their name when they marry.
  • There are laws governing paternity as well as maternity leaves and laws forbidding sexual harassment in the workplace.

Meeting Etiquette

  • Greetings entail a degree of formality. A brief handshake is the common greeting among people who do not know each other.
  • Once a relationship is developed, three kisses on the cheek may replace the handshake. This is more a kissing of the air near the person's cheek. Start with the left cheek and alternate.
  • Men never kiss other men; they always shake hands.

Gift Giving Etiquette

  • If you are invited to a Belgian's house, bring flowers or good quality chocolates for the hostess.
  • Older Belgians may expect flowers to be unwrapped.
  • Do not give white chrysanthemums as they signify death.
  • Flowers should be given in an odd number, but not 13.
  • Liquor or wine should only be given to close friends.
  • Gifts are opened when received.

Dining Etiquette

  • Belgians socialize in their homes and restaurants, although the home is reserved for family or close friends.
  • If you receive a written invitation, the response must be written as well.
  • Wait for your host or hostess to introduce you to the other guests.
  • Dress conservatively. Belgians take pride in their appearance and expect you to do the same.
  • Arrive on time. Punctuality demonstrates respect.
  • Wait for your host to tell you where to sit.
  • Women take their seats before men.
  • Table manners are Continental - the fork is held in the left hand and the knife in the right while eating.
  • Keep your wrists above the table when eating.
  • Wait to see if your host offers a toast before sipping your drink.
  • The guest of honour may also give a toast.
  • Women may offer a toast.
  • It is polite to stand for a toast.
  • The Flemish raise their glasses twice during a toast. The glass is initially raised during the toast and then at the completion of the toast.
  • Never leave food on your plate. It is seen as both rude and wasteful.
  • Indicate you have finished eating by laying your knife and fork parallel on your plate, tines facing upwards, with the handles facing to the right.
  • Belgians take pride in their cuisine, so praising a meal is a sincere compliment.

Relationships & Communication

  • Although third-party introductions are not necessary, they often smooth the way.
  • Regardless of how you are introduced, you must always be polite and well mannered.
  • Belgians are careful and prudent so take time before they trust others, be they individuals or representatives of companies.
  • Business dealings tend to be bureaucratic. There are many procedures and a great deal of paperwork.
  • Belgians are excellent linguists and many are sufficiently fluent to conduct meetings in English.
  • Belgians prefer subtlety to directness, believing that subtlety is a reflection of intelligence.
  • Although they are more direct in their communication than many cultures, if a response is too direct it may be seen as simplistic.
  • They prefer communication to be logical and based on reason
  • Belgians often engage in long, critical discussions before reaching a decision so that they can be certain that they have considered all the alternatives.
  • They believe it is rude to be confrontational.

Business Meeting Etiquette

  • Appointments are necessary
  • The person you are meeting will generally set the time for the meeting, usually mid morning or mid afternoon.
  • Avoid scheduling meetings during July and August, which are prime vacation times; the week before Easter; and the week between Christmas and New Year.
  • Everyone is expected to arrive on time
  • Arriving late may brand you as unreliable.
  • Meetings are formal
  • First appointments are more socially than business oriented, as Belgians prefer to do business with those they know.
  • Do not remove your jacket during a meeting.