Belgium Culture of Business

By | July 24, 2022

Subchapters:

  • Introduction
  • Addressing
  • Business Meeting
  • Communication
  • Recommendations
  • Public Holidays

Introduction

The Belgians proceed professionally and matter-of-factly in negotiations. Company representatives do not rely on excessive formalities, they act thoughtfully with an emphasis on a longer-term strategy and the possibility of establishing more permanent relationships, if the nature of the business or cooperation allows such a procedure. They are capable of sufficient flexibility and try to conduct negotiations from the beginning rather in a “win-win” spirit. However, they are sufficiently self-confident and demanding.

They consider the negotiated conditions to be binding and require them to be fulfilled, especially in terms of terms, volumes, quality and payment terms. The vast majority of Belgian companies have experience in international trade. The problem may be a lack of awareness of the Czech Republic as a traditional industrial country or distorted ideas about the Czech Republic as a country from so-called “Eastern Europe”.

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Addressing

Belgians are not overly formal, but they observe formalities at the beginning of contacts. There are regional differences: in Flanders it is common to be addressed by the first name even while maintaining relatively formal communication (a more Anglo-Lassanian model).

Francophone Wallonia is more formal in written and verbal communication. Belgians do not emphasize the use of titles, with the exception of academic ranks (doctor, professor, etc.).

Business cards in standard format are commonly used. In view of the language difference, it is advisable to have both the French and the Flemish version available; if necessary, the English and French mutation can be used.

Business meeting

It is advisable to start arranging a meeting by communicating by email specifying the details regarding the purpose and goal of the meeting and its participants. You need to be prepared for the fact that sometimes responses to emails are not quick, especially in the beginning of contacts. However, it does not necessarily indicate a lack of interest in the meeting. In most cases, a telephone reminder will help, which will also explain the reason for the delay in the response on the Belgian side.

Working meetings usually take place in office premises, after which a working lunch is a frequent part of the meeting. It can already take place in the restaurant.

Timing of meetings: In Belgium it is customary to start the working day later, it is advisable to arrange morning meetings only from 10 o’clock (in any case, we do not recommend proposing to start the meeting before 9 o’clock, unless there is a special reason for this). The shift also corresponds to a longer working day, therefore even a working dinner following the previous meeting may not be an exception.

Gifts are not common, the Belgian style is essentially matter-of-fact and gift-giving is not expected.

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During negotiations, there may be surprisingly little knowledge and awareness of the realities or history of the Czech Republic, which, despite its long-standing membership in the EU, is mechanically classified as part of so-called Eastern Europe. In this sense, some Belgian partners may be surprised by, for example, the industrial tradition of the Czech Republic or its historical connection with Western Europe.

Belgians approach business negotiations rationally and pragmatically. They are very good negotiators who can focus on finishing the details.

Negotiations in Belgium are not fundamentally different from the approach in the Czech Republic or the Central European region. It is appropriate to perceive the division of Belgium into a French-speaking part and a Dutch-speaking Flemish part and to respect this linguistic division. We therefore recommend not using French in the Flemish part and prefer to agree on the use of English in advance.

Belgians use their time very efficiently. During negotiations, it is not usual to show emotions significantly or to use them to influence business partners.

There are no big differences between the territories in Belgium regarding the approach to business negotiations. The Flemish part is generally more dynamic in terms of economy, and the approach to negotiations may correspond to this.

Alcohol is a common part of a business lunch or dinner during business meetings, but its usual consumption is quite limited.

It is usually not common to dress very formally for a casual business or work meeting (unless it is a high-level occasion). The “smart casual” style is quite common (its suitability corresponds to the occasions for its use in the Czech Republic).

Negotiation teams in Belgium do not have a specific composition, nor are partners expected to. In Belgium, women are increasingly gaining ground in executive positions (especially in politics, but also as CEOs of prominent companies), and this may also be reflected in the composition of the team from the Belgian side.

Inviting a business partner to your home is not common, except in cases where, for example, long-term business relationships are involved. In an informal approach to work and business contacts, an invitation “for a beer” is more common.

Communication

In the French-speaking part of Belgium, it is possible to arrange the use of interpretation in advance.

In the Flemish part and usually also in Brussels, it is more common to use English as a common language. Visit Aparentingblog for more information about Belgium culture and traditions.

In general, knowledge of English is common in the business world in Belgium. In Flanders, more emphasis is placed on it and its knowledge is usually at a very high level.

Communication taboos can be complex political topics, such as the differences between the two main regions and the future division of powers in Belgium or the topic of separatism (on the Flemish side). These topics are emotive and very complex – there is a general tendency to avoid these types of topics in Belgian society.

Also, topics such as direct criticism of the royal family, which is quite respected in Belgium, are not appropriate.

We recommend a formal start of communication by email, or supplement it with a telephone conversation to clarify the details.

Recommendation

Entrepreneurs who are going to Belgium could take advantage of consultations on the Belgian market and the situation there in advance at the headquarters of Czech institutions such as PaulTrade or CzechInvest.

We also recommend that you prepare your intentions for the meeting precisely in advance, as the Belgians prefer well-structured meetings.

Public Holidays

Public holidays 2022:

  • January 1, 2022 (New Year)
  • April 18, 2022 (Easter Monday)
  • May 1, 2022 (Labor Day)
  • May 26, 2022 Ascension of Jesus Christ (6th Thursday after Easter)
  • June 6, 2022 – Pentecost (7th Monday after Easter)
  • July 21, 2022 – public holiday
  • August 15, 2022 (Assumption of the Virgin Mary)
  • November 1, 2022 (All Saints Day)
  • 11 November 2022 (Armistice Day – End of WW1 1918)
  • December 25, 2022 (Christmas)

Note: P = floating date, T = permanent date

There are also regional holidays in Belgium:

  • 11/07/2022 Holiday of the Flemish Community
  • 27/09/2022 French Commonwealth Day

Belgium Culture of Business