Customs in Belgium

Countries  »  Belgium  »  Local Customs

Customs in Belgium

  • Belgians don't like to talk about their income or politics. You must also avoid asking people about their views on religion.
  • The Flanders-Wallonia question or dispute and the high number of separatist and extreme-right votes in Flanders are controversial topics and you must avoid asking people about their views on these as well.
  • Do NOT try to speak French in Flanders, and Dutch in Wallonia! Speaking the "wrong" language can be considered very offensive in the two regions, and you will either be ignored or at worst get an icy response and substandard service. However, the closer you get to the language border this will happen less frequently. Across the country, the lingua franca between both Flemings and Wallons has become English especially among the younger generations, to avoid being spoken to in the "other language". That is why as a tourist, it is best to start a conversation in English or the "correct" language, that is Dutch in Flanders and French in Wallonia.
  • Do NOT tell the Walloons (and most of the people of Brussels) that they are French. Most Walloons, despite speaking French, are not and do not consider themselves French and dislike being associated with their neighbour France.
  • And for the same reason, do NOT tell the Flemish (and also the people of Brussels) that they are Dutch. Most Flemings, despite speaking Dutch (Flemish), are not and do not consider themselves Dutch and dislike being associated with their neighbour the Netherlands.
  • Belgians in general are very proud of their comic book artists. The "Belgian school of comic books" is hailed as a national pride. In Belgium, comic books are valuable books printed with a hard cover. There are dozens of beautiful yet expensive merchandizing items, and the Belgians are fond of them. A plastic figurine of a comic book character or a special artwork of a hailed comic book artist would be a perfect gift for your Belgian friends and in-laws, for example.
  • Giving tips shows that you were content with the service given, but you are certainly not obliged to do so. It is sometimes done in bars and restaurants. Depending on the total, a tip of €0,50 to €2,50 is considered generous.

For party-minded people, Belgium can be great. Most cities are close to each other and are either large urban areas (Brussels, Antwerp) or student areas (Leuven, Liège, Ghent), etc. In this little region, you will find the most clubs, cafés, restaurants per square mile in the world. A good starting point can be places with a strong student/youth culture : Leuven around its big university, Liège in the famous "carré" district, etc. You can expect a wide variety in music appreciation, going from jazz to the better electronic music. Just ask around for the better clubs and there you will most likely meet some music fanatics who can show you the better underground parties in this tiny country.

The government has a mostly liberal attitude towards bars, clubs and parties. They acknowledge the principle of "live and let live". As long as you don't cause public disturbance, vandalize property and get too drunk, the police will not intervene. This also one of the main principles of Belgian social life, as this sort of behaviour is generally considered offensive. Of course, in student communities this is more tolerated, but generally, you are most respected if you party as hard as you like- but with a sense of discretion and self-control.

Officially, drugs are not allowed. But as long as you respect the aforementioned principles, you are not likely to get into serious trouble. Beware though, that driving under the influence of alcohol and drugs is not tolerated and traffic laws are strictly enforced in this matter. Especially in the weekends on main roads, you have a good chance of being stopped for an alcohol control.

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