Business Practices in Belgium

Overview by
The Fundamental Principles of Business Culture
Belgium is legally bilingual [Dutch and French] but is not a melting pot. The two dominant cultures co-exist in an uneasy, but positive tension that actually generates a creative dynamism. Though deeply traditional in many ways, Belgians are flexible and internationalist in outlook; though renowned for their enjoyment of the good things in life, Belgians quietly get on with earning the means that permits their high standard of living. Belgium may be small and internally complicated, but it is very definitely open for business.
First Contact
The person you are meeting will generally set the time for the meeting, usually mid morning or mid afternoon.
Arriving late may brand you as unreliable. First appointments are more socially than business oriented, as Belgians prefer to do business with those they know. However, establishing a personal relationship is not a prerequisite for business negotiation.
When planning your trip [and any follow-up meetings], you should bear in mind that most Belgians take a one-month vacation each year, usually in July-August.
First names are still generally reserved for close friends, so you should always use the standard courtesy titles followed by the surname (the Dutch forms of address are: meneer ['Mr'], mevrouw ['Mrs'] and mejuffrouw ['Miss']).
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. Men never kiss other men; they always shake hands.
How to Present Yourself
During the first meeting one shake hands to greet. A "delighted" should accompanies this gesture.
Belgians are not generally hung up about academic and/or professional titles. However, they appreciate that we make the gesture to speak their language, French or Dutch, as appropriate.
Business Relations
Belgians are quite friendly and direct, even in the Business culture and pay less attention to formality than the French. After the necessary introductions have been made, some Belgians will immediately proceed with business discussions; others will initiate some preliminary 'small talk' before getting down to business. Mutual trust is much prized by Belgian businessmen and an element of 'small talk' allows a more personal acquaintance to develop that will encourage development of this trust. If you are running the meeting, the best policy is to start off with some 'small talk' and then allow your Belgian counterpart to initiate the business discussion.
If you are invited to a Belgian's house, bring flowers or good quality chocolates for the hostess.
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.
Business Communication
Flemish speaking Belgians are excellent linguists and many are sufficiently fluent to conduct meetings in English.
French speaking are more reluctant to conduct business in English. Communication is friendly but you should keep in mind that politics in Belgium is quite complex and might be an issue for some natives.
It is better to avoid that issue and comparison with neighbor countries as France and Netherlands.
It is important to maintain eye contact with his interlocutor.
Dress Code
Men should wear dark colored, sober business suits with white shirts and silk ties.
Women should wear business suits or sober 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.
Visiting Cards
Business cards are often used as introduction. They 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.
For Further Information
Kwintessential Croos Cultural solutions
Executive planet Belgium

Any Comments About This Content? Report It to Us.

Read more See less
Experts Views (6)
Post your content


Post content about Business Practices in Belgium and you will be listed here to receive requests for offers.

Contact our expert contributor
  • U.S. Commercial Service

    US GovTrade Promotion, the United States