Etiquette & Customs (in short)
The Belgians have a relaxed attitude to practices and attitudes.
If you are visiting Flanders, the northern part of Belgium, then try to learn just a little Dutch before you arrive. Just simple words like “Hello”: Hallo (HAH-low), “Thank you”: Dank u (DAHNK uu) or “Goodbye”: Tot ziens (TOT seens) go a long way.
Visiting Wallonia, the Southern part of Belgium, learning a little French before you arrive will be great. Few words like “Hello”: Bonjour (bohn-ZHOOR), “Thank you”: Merci (merr-SEE) or “Goodbye”: Au Revoir (oh ruh-VWAHR)
All in all, this shows, that you are willing to learn their language and not expecting them to speak English to you.
- A brief handshake accompanied by direct eye contact is the common greeting among people who don’t know each other
- Once a personal relationship has 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 or greet each other with a hug
Gift Giving Etiquette:
- If you are invited, 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
- Liquor or wine should only be given to close friends
- Belgians socialize in their homes and restaurants, although the home is reserved for family or close friends
- 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
- 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
Should you leave a tip in restaurants or bars?
You can leave a tip, but you don’t have to.
As in many European countries, the bill includes a service charge. So make sure to check the bill itself; there is no need to leave any extra tip in addition to this amount. A service charge is not the same as a tip.
People sometimes give 5 or 10% of the bill as a tip or round up to an even number. It depends on how happy you were with the service.
Belgium is generally a peaceful country, but there can always happen thefts of mobile phones, cameras and other valuable things. Be aware of pickpockets around various sights especially around cathedrals and other places where tourists gathered.
Most travellers will not experience any issues or problems on their holiday in Belgium. It can happen, butit can also be prevented by some simple precautions as:
- Do not “flash” cash or expensive items
- Visit only the cash machines during the day or early evening
- Do not leave expensive items visible in cars
Terrorism is new to the Belgians and it is a topic high on the security list for the police. They are doing everything they can, with all the technology they have to protect you. Therefore, stopping you on the street is for protection not harassment. Nevertheless, they can never provide you a 100% safeness.
Things and places you should avoid in Brussels:
- Gare du Midi – Avoid after dark, it is not safe
- Molenbeek – Area is not safe day and night
- Red Light District – Use caution, you do need to be careful
- Gangs – can be encountered all over Brussel. If you see a gang, make eye contact and walk by them quickly, don’t cross the street
Emergency numbers in Belgium (free call)
In case of any emergency, call:
- 112 – National emergency number
- 100 – Fire, ambulance or medical emergency
- 101 – Police
The caller must:
- State the location where assistance is needed
- State their name and telephone number
- State what happened, and if it is still happening
- State how many people need help
- State if there are weapons involved