THE BELGIAN CULTURAL BACKGROUND
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.
o Greetings entail a degree of formality. A brief handshake is the common greeting among people who do not know each other.
o 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.
o Men never kiss other men; they always shake hands.
Gift Giving Etiquette
o If you are invited to a Belgian’s house, bring flowers or good quality chocolates for the hostess.
o Older Belgians may expect flowers to be unwrapped.
o Do not give white chrysanthemums as they signify death.
o Flowers should be given in an odd number, but not 13.
o Liquor or wine should only be given to close friends.
o Gifts are opened when received.
Business Meeting Etiquette
o Appointments are necessary
o The person you are meeting will generally set the time for the meeting, usually mid morning or mid afternoon.
o Avoid scheduling meetings during July and August, which are prime vacation times; the week before Easter; and the week between Christmas and New Year.
o Everyone is expected to arrive on time
o Arriving late may brand you as unreliable.
o Meetings are formal
o First appointments are more socially than business oriented, as Belgians prefer to do business with those they know.
o Do not remove your jacket during a meeting.