Belgium is comprised of two primary cultural groups. The
Dutch-speaking Flemings live in Flanders, in the north, and make up
55% of the population. The French-speaking Walloons live in
Wallonia, in the south, and make up 33% of the population. Hard work
and an appreciation for culture are important values to Belgians,
who think of themselves as Europeans first, Walloons or Flemings
second, and Belgians third. Strong family systems are vital to
Belgian society. Extended families live in separate homes, but often
settle in or near the town where they were raised.
Meeting and Greeting
- Shake hands with everyone present -- men, women, and children
-- at business and social meetings. Shake hands again when
- Repeat your name when being introduced.
- Dutch, French and German are all widely spoken in Belgium.
- Speak English if in doubt. There is no place in Europe where
you can get in greater trouble by using the incorrect language
than in Belgium.
- The language of choice for negotiators in Brussels is English.
French is also frequently used.
- It is considered impolite to snap your fingers.
- Do not put your hands in your pockets, yawn, scratch or use
toothpicks in public.
- Feet should never be put on chairs or tables.
- Back slapping is considered offensive.
- The "okay" sign means zero.
- Belgians take punctuality for business meetings very
seriously. Call with an explanation if you are delayed.
- Present your business card upon meeting. Business cards in
English are acceptable.
- Belgians tend to socialize for a short period of time before
they get down to business at meetings.
- Initial meetings are generally for getting acquainted and
- Business meetings are formal. Personal relationships follow
- Belgians are known for compromise, negotiation and common
sense. They appreciate clear facts and figures.
- In Flanders, business organization is generally horizontal and
simple. Participatory management, active consensus and delegation
of responsibility are common in the workplace.
- Walloons prefer structure, formal organization, clear
hierarchical systems and directive leadership. Rules and
procedures are important to Walloons, as are job titles and rank.
- It is not acceptable to call a Belgian businessperson at home
unless there is an emergency.
Dining and Entertainment
- Business lunches are common; business breakfasts are rare.
- To beckon a waiter or waitress raise your hand and make eye
- Keep your hands on the table at all times during a meal -- not
in your lap. However, keep your elbows off the table.
- Accept any drink offered by your host. Don't ask for a drink
- Hosts seat guests. Husbands and wives are generally not seated
- Hosts and hostesses sit at opposite ends of the table.
- A male guest of honor is seated to the right of the hostess; a
female guest of honor is seated to the right of the host.
- Wait to drink until your host offers the first toast.
- The guest of honor is generally expected to offer a toast.
- Belgians are thrifty and do not appreciate waste. Finish all
the food on your plate.
- Knife and fork are placed side by side on the dinner plate at
the 5:25 position when you are finished eating.
- It is considered impolite to ask for a tour of your host's
- Belgians dress conservatively.
- For business meetings, men should wear dark suits and ties.
Women should wear suits, dresses or skirts and blouses.
- Gifts are generally not exchanged in business settings.
- When invited to someone's home, always bring flowers for the
hostess. Small gifts or candy for children are appreciated.
- Do not give chrysanthemums, which symbolize death.
- Gifts are generally opened in front of the giver.
- Don’t give gifts that are extravagant or expensive.
- Avoid discussing personal matters or linguistic divisions with
- In Belgium, men are expected to rise when a woman enters the
room. They also stand on public transportation until women are
- Do not flaunt wealth or be noisy or loud in public.
- Do not ask personal questions about private lives.
- Try to sneeze and blow your nose in private.
Especially for Women
- Foreign women should have little difficulty conducting
business in Belgium.
- It is acceptable for a foreign woman to invite a Belgian man
to dinner and pay the tab.