How to Do Business in Belgium
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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 leaving.
- 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
- Do not put your hands in your pockets,
yawn, scratch or use toothpicks in public.
- Feet should never be put on chairs or
- Back slapping is considered offensive.
- The “okay” sign means zero.
- Belgians take punctuality for business
meetings very seriously. Call with an explanation if you
- 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 developing trust.
- Business meetings are formal. Personal
relationships follow business relationships.
- 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
- 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 contact.
- 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 not offered.
- Hosts seat guests. Husbands and wives
are generally not seated together.
- 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
- It is considered impolite to ask for
a tour of your host’s home.
- 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
- 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
- Gifts are generally opened in front
of the giver.
- Don’t give gifts that are extravagant
- Avoid discussing personal matters or
linguistic divisions with Belgians.
- In Belgium, men are expected to rise
when a woman enters the room. They also stand on public
transportation until women are seated.
- Do not flaunt wealth or be noisy or
loud in public.
- Do not ask personal questions about
- Try to sneeze and blow your nose in
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.
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