Understanding and respecting Belgian manners and taboos will not only enhance your interactions with locals but also show your appreciation for their way of life. Here’s a guide to help you navigate cultural norms during your stay in Belgium:
Greetings and Personal Space
Belgians appreciate polite greetings, so when meeting someone for the first time or entering a room, a friendly “Bonjour” (in French-speaking regions) or “Goedendag” (in Dutch-speaking regions) is customary. Handshakes are standard, and a firm, brief handshake is considered respectful. Personal space is valued, so avoid standing too close to someone during conversations.
Punctuality is highly regarded in Belgium, whether it’s for meetings, appointments, or social gatherings. Arriving on time demonstrates respect for others’ schedules and commitments.
Belgium takes pride in its gastronomic culture, so dining etiquette is important. When invited to someone’s home, arriving on time is crucial. Table manners are relatively formal, with resting your wrists on the edge of the table and not your elbows being considered polite. Additionally, wait until the host says “Bon appétit” (French) or “Smakelijk” (Dutch) before starting your meal. Remember to finish everything on your plate, as leaving food might be interpreted as wasteful.
In Belgium, there are three official languages – Dutch, French, and German. The language spoken in each region depends on its location. When traveling through different regions, it’s best to greet locals in the language of the region you’re in. In Brussels, both French and Dutch are widely spoken, and English is often understood, especially in tourist areas.
Tipping is not obligatory in Belgium, as service charges are typically included in restaurant bills. However, it is customary to round up the bill or leave a small tip as a gesture of appreciation for good service. In cafes and bars, a few euros are often left as a tip.
Taboos and Sensitivities
Belgium is a culturally diverse country, so it’s essential to be aware of potential sensitivities. Avoid discussing sensitive topics like politics, religion, or language tensions, as these can be divisive. Also, refrain from making comparisons between regions or language communities, as it can be perceived as insensitive.
Belgians generally dress modestly and conservatively. When visiting religious sites or attending formal events, dressing appropriately is highly regarded. In more casual settings, neat and tidy attire is suitable.
Public behavior is expected to be respectful and considerate. Loud conversations or disruptive behavior in public spaces, such as public transport, museums, or restaurants, should be avoided.