14 Belgium Social Etiquette Rules and Customs

Social Etiquette Belgium
In Belgium, politeness and respect are the core values of social etiquette. Punctuality is also important, as is dressing appropriately for the occasion. Learning a few phrases of French, Dutch, and German will make you appear more cultured and respectful.

1. Know The Three Regions Of Belgium

Belgium is a small, multilingual country in Western Europe with three main regions: Flanders, Wallonia, and Brussels Capital. Flanders is in the north and is home to the Dutch-speaking community, also known as the Flemish people. 

Wallonia is in the south and is home to the French-speaking community, also known as Walloons. The Brussels Capital is in the country’s center and is officially bilingual, with Dutch and French recognized as official languages.

The regional identity in the culture reflects the linguistic and cultural diversity of the country. Each region has its unique history, traditions, and dialects that are celebrated and embraced by the people living there.

2. Appreciate Belgian History and Politics

Belgium’s history has significantly impacted its culture, characterized by a mix of France, Dutch, and German influences. The country is known for its beer, chocolate, waffles, art, architecture, and fashion.

The government is a federal parliamentary democracy under a constitutional monarchy. The King is the head of state, while the Prime Minister is the head of government. 

The country has three regions and three language communities. Each region and community has its government.

3. Learn Basic Local Phrases

Language plays a significant role in Belgium, a country with three languages. The region determines the language used. 

Learning basic local phrases is essential as it shows respect for their culture which helps to establish a good relationship. One of the most important phrases to learn is “please.” The Belgian word for please is “s’il vous plaît” (French), “alstublieft” (Dutch), and “bitte” (German).

French is widely spoken and common in Wallonia and the capital, Brussels. Some common phrases to learn include:

  • Bonjour (Hello)
  • Comment ça va? (How are you?)
  • Merci beaucoup (Thank you very much)
  • Au revoir (Goodbye)

You may also like: 9 Standard Business Etiquette in France

Dutch is common in Flanders. Some common phrases include:

  • Hallo (Hello)
  • Hoe gaat het? (How are you?)
  • Dank je wel (Thank you)
  • Tot ziens (Goodbye)

German is common in a small part of eastern Belgium, near the border with Germany. Some common phrases include:

  • Guten Tag (Hello)
  • Wie geht es Ihnen? (How are you?)
  • Vielen Dank (Thank you very much)
  • Auf Wiedersehen (Goodbye)

Also read: 10 Do’s and Don’ts of German Business Etiquette

4. Say Hello

Belgians greet each other as a sign of respect and peace. The appropriate greeting can vary depending on the occasion and level of formality.

When addressing someone professionally, use a formality appropriate for the situation.

  • Use their title and last name: If the person has a formal title, such as “Dr.” or “Professor,” it’s appropriate to use it along with their last name.
  • Use their first name if appropriate: Use first names if you have an established relationship with the person or if they have permitted you.

5. Listen Actively And Maintain Eye Contact

Active listening involves focusing on the speaker and trying to understand their perspective. This means listening without interrupting, asking clarifying questions, and summarizing what they’ve said to show that you understand.

The use of nonverbal cues and body language often characterizes Belgian communication. People tend to use eye contact, especially when listening to someone. You may also nod or use facial expressions to show your engagement in the conversation.

When done conversing, the best way to end a conversation is to do so politely and respectfully. Look for cues that the other person may be ready to end the conversation, such as looking at their watch. If you’re standing too close or invading someone’s personal space, they may feel uncomfortable or threatened.

6. Gift-Giving Etiquette

In Belgium, there are several occasions when it is appropriate to give gifts. Here are a few examples:

  1. Birthdays: Celebrating birthdays is an important tradition and giving gifts to friends and family members on their special day is common.
  2. Christmas: The holiday season is when many people exchange gifts with loved ones. 
  3. Weddings: Giving gifts to newlyweds is also common. Couples often register for gifts at a store. You can choose items from the registry or give money.
  4. Housewarming parties: When someone moves into a new home, you can bring a small gift such as a potted plant or a bottle of wine.
  5. Business occasions: Giving gifts to business associates is appropriate, especially when you are visiting another company or closing a deal.

Here are a few examples of thoughtful gifts:

  1. Chocolates: A box of high-quality chocolates is always a good choice.
  2. Wine or beer: Giving a local brew or a good quality wine bottle would be appreciated.
  3. Flowers: A bouquet of flowers is always a thoughtful and appreciated gift, especially for women.
  4. Personalized gifts: Engraved pens, keychains, or photo frames.

7. Fork Stays In Your Left Hand

holding fork and knife correctly
Holding fork and knife correctly

Table etiquette in Belgium dictates starting from the outside and working your way in with the utensils. 

Hold your fork in your left hand and the knife in your right hand. You should still hold the fork in your left hand if you are not using a knife. Always place your utensils on your plate when you are not using them. Never rest them on the table.

Pass dishes to the person on your left, and only take a portion once. After eating, lay your knife and fork parallel to your plate.

Learn more: 20 France Dining Etiquette Tips

8. Raise Your Glass When Toasting

raising wine glass for toast
Raising wine glass for toast

Beer is a part of Belgian life; people enjoy it at family gatherings, festivals, and other social occasions.

When making a proper toast, remember to:

  • Make eye contact with the person you are toasting to show respect and sincerity. 
  • Raise your glass to shoulder height, or slightly higher, to show you are making a genuine and heartfelt toast.
  • Say the toast clearly and loudly enough for everyone to hear. The most common toast is “Santé!” which means “To your health!”
  • Clink glasses with the person you are toasting, holding your glass at the same height as theirs. After clinking glasses, sip your drink to seal the toast.

Further reading: 14 Wine Etiquette Do’s and Don’ts

9. Tipping Is Optional

Tipping in restaurants is optional

Tipping is not mandatory, and there are no specific rules for tipping. You can tip to appreciate good service. The tip amount can vary depending on the situation.

A tip of around 10% is considered appropriate for good service in restaurants. Sometimes, the tip may be included in the bill as a service charge, so check the bill before leaving an additional tip.

For taxis, it is common to round up the fare to the nearest euro. If the service was exceptional, you could add a little extra. For example, if the fare is €8.60, you can round up to €9 and add an extra euro for exceptional service.

In hotels, leaving a small tip for the cleaning staff is customary. You can leave a few euros per day for good service.

10. Formal Dress Code

The proper way to dress for business meetings and events is generally formal and conservative. This means wearing a suit and tie for men, while women should dress in a business suit or a dress that covers the knees.

Dressing appropriately for business meetings and events shows respect for the occasion and the people you’re meeting. A well-groomed appearance establishes credibility and professionalism and convey a sense of confidence and attention to detail.

11. Respect for Cultural Differences

Respecting different cultures in Belgium fosters social cohesion and promotes inclusivity. It also helps you to avoid misunderstandings, conflicts, and discrimination.

One way to show respect for cultural differences is to learn about different cultures’ customs, traditions, and national languages. This can involve reading books, watching documentaries, or attending cultural events and festivals.

12. Respect Personal Space and Limit Physical Contact

The appropriate amount of personal space can vary depending on the relationship between individuals and the context of the situation. Belgians value their space and prefer to maintain a comfortable distance of about arm’s length when interacting with others.

A handshake is a common way to show respect and establish a connection. Close friends or family members may greet each other with a hug or a kiss on the cheek. 

When saying goodbye, it is polite to thank the person for their time and express your appreciation for the interaction. Respect the person’s space and avoid prolonged physical contact if they appear uncomfortable.

13. Rude Behaviors To Avoid

Here are some examples of rude behaviors in Belgium:

  • Interrupting others while they’re speaking: Belgians value good manners and polite communication, so interrupting someone while they’re talking is considered impolite.
  • Being late: Belgians appreciate punctuality and being on time for appointments and meetings. Being consistently late is disrespectful and may cause others to think you don’t value their time. 
  • Not respecting personal space: Belgians value their space, so avoid standing too close to someone.

14. Explore The Belgian Culture

To fully immerse yourself in the culture, you can start by exploring its cities, sampling its food and drink, and attending local events and festivals. Here are some recommendations to get you started:

  • Explore Brussels:  Take a stroll through the Grand Place, the city’s central square, and admire its beautiful architecture.
  • Attend local festivals: Some of the most famous festivals include the Brussels Jazz Marathon in May, the Gentse Feesten in July, and the Tomorrowland electronic music festival in August.
  • Visit historical landmarks: Some of the must-see attractions include the medieval Gravensteen Castle in Ghent and the Belfry of Bruges.
  • Sample the local cuisine: Belgium is known for its waffles, chocolate, fries, and beer. Try some Belgian chocolates, enjoy a bowl of moules-frites (mussels and fries), and taste some of the famous beers, including Trappist ales.


Tabitha is a curious and enthusiastic writer who believes in the power of words and the importance of good manners. Etiquette is her passion, and she enjoys sharing her knowledge with others. When she isn’t writing, she enjoys traveling, reading, and spending time with her family.

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