Facts and Statistics
Location: Western Europe, bordering France 620 km, Germany 167 km, Luxembourg 148 km,
Netherlands 450 km
Climate: temperate; mild winters, cool summers; rainy, humid, cloudy
Population: 10,348,276 (July 2004 est.)
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
Languages of Belgium
Official Languages of Belgium are French, Dutch and German. Wallon is used by 33% of 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 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.
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 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.
Etiquette & Protocol Guidelines for Belgium
. 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.
. 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.
Business Etiquette and Protocol in Belgium
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.
. 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 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.
Being a Manager in Belgium
The business set up in Belgium is hierarchical. Cross cultural management is more likely to succeed if you understand the Belgians are formal and courteous. They adhere to established rules of protocol for most situations and expect others to do the same. They respect corporate hierarchy and those who have attained a senior-level position. Since they are a private people, they do not readily mix their private and business lives.
Newcomers to the Belgian management style should carefully study the corporate culture of specific companies because they may vary from being hierarchical to rather egalitarian.
Office hours are generally 8:30 a.m-5:30 p.m. Businesses do not officially close earlier on Fridays but many office workers like to get away early for the weekend. Senior executives tend to work longer hours.
Avoid scheduling meetings in July and August, as many Belgians take vacations during this time. Also, you will not likely conduct business with a Belgian in the evening or on the weekend. This is their private time and they prefer to spend it with their family.
The Role of a Manager
Cross cultural management is more effective when working in Belgium when you understand the Belgians generally like working in teams and collaborate quite well across hierarchical lines. The communication within a team is generally quite collegial, albeit somewhat direct. Role allocation within the team is generally quite clearly defined and people will take greater responsibility for their specific task than for the group as a whole.
The role of the leader is to harness the talent of the group assembled, and develop any resulting synergies. The leader will be deferred to as the final authority in any decisions that are made, but they do not dominate the discussion or generation of ideas. Praise should be given to the entire group as well as to individuals.
Approach to Change
Belgium’s intercultural tolerance and readiness for change is medium. Changes are made, albeit slowly, and require considerable amount of thought, planning and evaluation.
Approach to Time and Priorities
Belgium is a controlled-time culture and adherence to schedules is important and expected. In Belgium, missing a deadline is a sign of poor management and inefficiency, and will shake people’s confidence. Successful cross cultural management will depend on the individual’s ability to meet deadlines.
Even though Belgians respect schedules and deadlines, it would be wise not to expect people to work late or give up weekends in order to meet target deadlines.
Belgians are accustomed to centralized decision-making based upon information that has been gathered by all concerned parties. Supervisors and managers make most decisions for their work group, even ones that would be implemented by subordinates in other cultures. When managers delegate their authority, they provide explicit details about what is to be done and how it is to be accomplished.
Since decision-making occurs at the highest levels and each reviewing level is expected to verify that the matter has been researched thoroughly and that all interested parties have been consulted, decision-making can be a time-consuming and laborious process. For cross cultural management to be successful, patience will be needed.
In Flanders (Dutch speaking part of Belgium), decisions are group or consensus focused. In Wallonia (French speaking part of Belgium), business is more hierarchical and the top-ranking person at the meeting makes decisions. The Flemish-speaking businesses tend to be more egalitarian.
Boss or Team Player
Intercultural adaptability will be easier when bearing in mind how formal and bureaucratic the business set up in Belgium is. Each individual’s role remains clearly defined although global and intercultural expansion means that employees are now beginning to feel that they are authorized by station, education, or position, to either aspire to leadership or to express themselves freely in management circles.
Communication and Negotiation Styles
Successful cross cultural communication will take into account the high regard Belgians place on manners. Regardless of how you are introduced, you must always be polite and well-mannered. This includes shaking hands with everyone you meet, including administrative staff, but men should wait for a woman to extend her hand.
Negotiations are direct however pushing for an immediate decision is seen as aggressive.
Useful Information about Belgium
* Currency - the currency of Belgium is the Euro. Use the free currency converter to compare to dollars, GBP, etc.
* Weather - visit Yahoo!'s up to date Weather for Belgium.
* News - check out all the latest Google news on Belgium.
* Dialling Code - the international dialling code for Belgium is +32.
* Time - Belgium is +1 hour GMT. Get the time in Belgium now.
* History - read about the long and rich history of Belgium.
* Hotels - for accommodation see Hotels in Belgium.
information provided by www.kwintessential.co.uk