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Belgium - Culture, Etiquette and Business Practices

What will you Learn about Belgium?

You will gain an understanding of a number of key areas including:

  • Language
  • Religion and beliefs
  • Culture and society
  • Social etiquette and customs
  • Business culture and etiquette


Remember this is only a very basic level introduction to Belgium; it cannot account for the diversity within Belgian society and is not meant in any way to stereotype all Belgian people you may meet!

Facts and Statistics

  • 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
  • Population: 11.59 million (2020)
  • Ethnic Make-up: Fleming 58%, Walloon 31%, mixed or other 11%
  • Religions: Roman Catholic 75%, Protestant or other 25%
  • Government: federal parliamentary democracy under a constitutional monarch

church gent belgium

A church in Gent. Photo by Jorge Fernández Salas on Unsplash

Languages of Belgium

Official Languages of Belgium are French, Dutch and German. Wallon is used by 33% of the 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 the 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.

parc belgium brussels

Parc du Cinquantenaire, Brussels by Jorge Fernández Salas on Unsplash

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.



  • The majority of restaurants in Belgium include a service charge of 10-15% of the bill. 
  • Tips in addition to this fee are not expected. 
  • Consider rounding up the bill for taxi drivers. 
  • It’s not common to tip house keeping / concierge or bar staff.

Etiquette & Manners in Belgium

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.

belgian waffles with choc

You can't visit Belgium without trying the waffles! Photo by Robby McCullough on Unsplash

Business Culture and Etiquette in Belgium

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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.


Dress Etiquette

  • Men should wear dark coloured, conservative business suits with white shirts and silk ties.
  • Women should wear business suits or conservative dresses.
  • Men should only wear laced shoes, never loafers or other slip-ons, as they are too casual.
  • Polished shoes are an integral part of a professional image.


Business Cards

  • Business cards are exchanged without formal ritual.
  • Have one side of your business card translated into French or Dutch. This shows respect and understanding of the linguistic heritage of your colleagues.
  • If you have meetings in both areas, have two sets of business cards printed, and be careful to use the proper ones.
  • Present your business card so the recipient can read the side with their national language.




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