Traditional Belgian Worldview

Individual Orientation
Self-reliance; responsible for conduct of own life; independence

Hierarchic & Formal
Strong sense of structure, balanced by good distribution of wealth & strong rules to protect ethnic populations

Work Ethic
Moderate achievement orientation, with strong support of leisure and family time

“Work to Live”
People rather than performance focused; relationships drive business success

Cultural Notes

  • Belgium, a strongly Roman Catholic nation, is divided officially  into three regions, French-speaking Wallonia in the south, Flemish-speaking Flanders in the north (Flemish is a dialect of Dutch), and a small German-speaking area in the east.  These are Belgium’s three official languages.
  • The capital city of Brussels, the headquarters of the European Union and of NATO, has a 40% non-native population, and is primarily French-speaking.  English is a rapidly strengthening foreign language, beginning to replace the official national languages as the preferred second language (that is, native Flemish or French speakers increasingly use English as their lingua franca), and it is the preferred second language in Brussels.
  • There is a strong separatist movement toward creating an independent Flanders and an inability to reach an agreement on regional autonomy (and what would happen to Brussels) brought the government down in mid-July, 2008, perhaps the worst political deadlock in Belgium’s 177 year history.

Why Benelux?

BE lgium Flemish and French-speaking
NE therlands Dutch-speaking
LUX embourg French-speaking


  • Formed a trade Union in 1950.  Now members of the EU.
  • People in Benelux countries are quite likely to speak English, since the local languages are confined to a relatively small geographic area.
  • Benelux is compact.  It’s 123 miles between Brussels and Amsterdam, 184 miles between Paris and Brussels, and both of these destinations are served by high speed rail that will speed you between Paris and Brussels in one hour and 25 minutes.

Cultural Assumptions

  • Reserved, serious and hardworking
  • Law-abiding
  • Punctual
  • Friendship valued and maintained
  • Reserved in public; value privacy
  • Approach problems conscientiously
  • Stick-to-it determination
  • Individualists
  • Persistent
  • Strong spirit of democracy
  • Independent
  • Proud
  • “Live and let live” motto
  • Thrifty; waste is frowned upon
  • Generous and charitable

Belgian Communication Style


Direct Communication
Explicit, straight forward; logical and based on reason

Sensitivity to hierarchy; casualness may be equated with rudeness

Emotional displays avoided, modesty is valued

Initial contact is reserved; warm and friendly once the ice is broken

Low Context
Little attention is given to non-verbal cues and body language

Flemish stress planning; Walloons are more flexible and likely to improvise

Non-Verbal Dynamics

Men should stand when meeting and greeting a woman and should wait for women to extend their hands first.  Avoid gesturing so as to give a formal and restrained appearance.

Belgians shake hands and close friends greet each other with three cheek “air” kisses.  Men; however, never kiss other men, they always shake hands.  It is important to maintain steady eye contact and never look away as you are shaking hands.

When conversing with another person, you should always allow an arm’s length of personal space.

Guidelines for Communicating with Belgians

  • Keep in mind the linguistic distinctions and use the language of the region or English in business environments.
  • The two primary business cultures (French and Dutch) determine how business meetings begin, since the francophone Walloons will prefer some socializing and small talk before getting down to business, while the Flemish are likely to go immediately to the concerns of the meeting.
  • The more hierarchical Walloon culture creates a more formal environment with strong role identification and free emotional expression, while the Flemish environment will be more participative and informal, but emotionally reserved.  In both cultures the use of titles or honorifics plus last name is likely, and everyone shakes hands all around.
  • The Belgians are somewhat reserved about their private life and respect privacy in and outside the work environment.  However, they seek personal relationships as the basis for trust in business.
  • Modesty and lack of pride on personal achievement, plus a democratic or egalitarian attitude toward class shape personal discussions.

Business Practices

PROBLEM SOLVING Famous for pragmatic compromise based on extensive discussion between interested parties without imposing external frameworks.
MOTIVATING PEOPLE Motivated by advancement and loyalty to company, not money. Little job hopping. Strong work ethic, pride in workmanship.
APPRAISING PERFORMANCE Formal process with direct feedback.
NEGOTIATING, PERSUADING Drive a hard bargain; plan to negotiate for the deal. Oral agreements are considered binding.
DECISION MAKING PROCESS Rational decision-making process. Slow to commit, but true to the commitment once made. Non-confrontation is interpreted as agreement.
PARTICIPATION IN MEETINGS Meetings are noisy and confrontational; arguments are expected, not taken personally; accepted with no grudges afterward.
Management styles tend to be hierarchical, direct, well defined. Little socialization with work colleagues. Conservative and focused, avoiding personal questions. Well defined, WITH MORE EGALITARIAN ENVIRONMENT IN FLANDERS.
HIRING / DISMISSAL Dictated by European Union norms, with strong protection of employee status.
CUSTOMER RELATIONS Prompt replies to price quotes, orders and correspondence important. Expect quality and service and are prepared to pay for it.