Ways of living in Belgium
Belgian society & culture
Belgium has more than one national identity. This is one of the reasons why it is difficult to give a general idea of the Belgian culture. Every region has its own characteristics. Generally speaking, we can divide Belgium into four major cultures. The Flemish culture, the Walloon culture, the Brussels culture and the German culture. Despite many differences, there are a lot of actions, values and norms we all have in common.
Most Belgians visit their parents or grandparents once a week. But this can vary per family. Not everyone has the resources to do so. In that area, family plays a big role in the life of most.
Additionally, self-reliance is also very important. For example, elderly people are much more likely to be admitted to a home when they can no longer take care of themselves. This has also been accepted within society and is not synonymous with a lack of respect for the elderly.
Family care is a priority for many. This does not mean that neither women nor men can have a career. Women do not automatically become housewives when they have a child. After parental leave, both the mother and the father return to work. The father’s parental leave usually is shorter than the mother’s. It is advisable to ask about your rights and obligations regarding parental leave. There is a website in Dutch where you can find info about the matter. Click here.
Parents often take their child with them to appointments, outings and occasions. Sometimes companies have childcare at work, which makes it easier to reconcile work and childcare.
It is common to bring the kids to daycare or to their grandparents when the parents go to work.
Parents in a family still have the upper hand, but children also very often have a say. The opinions and feelings of the children are taken into account.
We like to take care of ourselves, that’s a fact. You will seldom see someone in a jogging suit walking down the street. Students are also always dressed up and stylishly dressed to go to class.
We also go grocery shopping with the same decent clothes, for example.
For an evening in, watching television, we dress comfortably. Think joggings and t-shirts.
We don’t have traditional clothing. On holidays, birthday parties and parties in general, some extra attention is paid to our appearance.
We also like to keep our houses, streets and desks clean and tidy.
Belgium is generally an egalitarian society.
For example, women are not expected to change their name when they get married. Parents can decide together whether their children will be given the family name of their mother, mother and father, or of their father alone.
Women are able to have a child on their own. They do not need to be married in order to do so.
LGBTQ people are also legally entitled to have children. Either by adoption or by a surrogate mother in the case of gays and sperm donation in the case of lesbians.
Every individual is equal, as the constitution states.
Therefore, there are laws that regulate paternity and parentage in general, laws on maternity and parental leave, and laws that prohibit sexual harassment. All is punishable.
There are websites in Dutch here : maternity and parental leave & sexual harassment.
Etiquette & habits in Belgium
Greeting someone can have different meanings.
A short handshake is the usual greeting among people who don’t know each other all too well. Both men and women shake hands when they do not know each other. A more informal way of greeting is to kiss three times on the cheek. Of course a handshake is still okay. It depends on what you feels good to you.
A cuddly toy is common among friends. But also here, not mandatory. It often depends on your group of friends and environment.
Giving and receiving gifts
Gifts are very common in Belgian society.
When you celebrate your birthday, you will almost certainly receive a gift from your parents, close family and close friends.
For births and marriages, a birth list or wedding list is often drawn up by the brand new parents or newly married couple. Family and friends can choose from the list what they want to give as a gift.
On holidays, gifts are an indispensable part of life. New Year and / or Christmas gifts are distributed. Children receive gifts at Easter and Saint Nicholas. For more information about the holidays : click here.
When you are invited to the homes of Belgians, it is common to bring along a small gift for the hostess or gentleman. This could be flowers, chocolate, or homemade biscuits. But it doesn’t really matter what you bring, it’s all about you being attentive.
You should probably not bring chrysanthemums with you. They are mainly used to place around the graves at cemeteries during All Saints to honor the dead.
Gifts are usually opened when they are received.
Table manners are continental – the fork is held in the left hand and the knife on the right while eating. We (almost) never eat with our hands, only when the dishes require to do so.
When there is a toast with drinks, everybody waits to drink from their glasses until everyone is served, or until the host raises their glass.
Indicate that you have finished eating by placing your knife and fork parallel to your plate, with the teeth facing up, with the handles facing right.
Expressing one’s praise for a meal is a sincere compliment.
Adapt your clothes to the circumstances, formally for official occasions, informally but neatly and properly for informal occasions.
There are no general dress codes, but they can be there when you are in a certain job area. Think of the police, fire brigade, hospitals, but also sometimes in the hospitality industry. Inform yourself well in advance.
As mentioned above, joggings and house suits are mainly worn at home. When you go outside, customized clothing is a must.
The weather can also be very changeable. It’s best to take that into account when choosing an outfit.
Both men and women wear trousers. They wear anything they like. Hijabs are permitted, depending on the employer. They are not allowed in public functions such as ticket office clerks at the municipality.
Burqa’s are not allowed. Wearing a nikab can result in a fine of 15 to 25 euros and/or a prison sentence of 1 to 7 days.
Apart from the laws mentioned above, the manifestation of a worldview is not punishable or forbidden. Be aware that not everyone is equally tolerant or open-minded. Inform yourself well in advance on whether it is okay or not to wear your symbols.
Belgium offers a great deal of recreational and entertainment opportunities. In the cities there is a wide range of music, theatre (sometimes with performances in English) and concert halls.
There are also many museums throughout the country, reflecting Belgium’s rich historical heritage.
Festivals, parades and carnivals are very popular.
Belgians are very enthusiastic about sports, including soccer and cycling. Sports complexes can be found in most local communities, as well as recreation and swimming pools, which are very popular in Belgium.
So, how and where can you spend your free time?
Part-time art education (DKO)
Part-time art education is better known under the names of music school and art academy.
Children, young people and adults can register on a voluntary basis:
Academies of Fine Arts offer the Fine Arts discipline
Academies for Performing Arts offer at least one of the following courses: Music, Word Arts or Dance
Art academies always offer visual arts, music and word art. In some you can also follow Dance
Children can start studying visual arts from the age of 6. For the disciplines of music, word art and dance, the starting age is 8 years.
Each field of study consists of different degrees. For each degree you successfully complete, you will receive a certificate indicating the level you have reached.
You can find a list of academies per municipality on the website of the Flemish Ministry of Education and Training. This list is in Dutch
Part-time art education is leisure education. It is therefore not to be confused with:
an art school at the conservatoire. This is a programme that belongs to higher education.
a course of study in art secondary education. This is a program that belongs to secondary education.
A youth movement is an organization with and for children and young people. They are guided by young volunteers. The management organises leisure activities for children and young people on a regular basis, usually on a weekly basis. In most youth movements, playing and meeting are the basis of these activities. It contributes to personal and social development. occasionally they start from a more thematic angle. Most youth movement groups round off the working year with a summer camp.
From an organisational point of view, we make a distinction between a local group of a youth movement and the ‘national’ umbrella structure. The local groups work autonomously or through a number of agreed statutes. They carry out the effective operation with the children and young people and are the beating heart of the organisation. The umbrella organisations are made up of national and regional voluntary and professional staff who provide support for the groups, training and exchange for the management and overarching activities and themes for the entire organisation.
Some youth movements are only girls – or only boy groups, others are mixed.
In Flanders and Brussels we find the following Dutch youth movement umbrella organizations:
All websites are in Dutch
- Chirojeugd Vlaanderen
- Scouts en Gidsen Vlaanderen
- KSA (Katholieke Studenten Actie)
- KLJ (Katholieke Landelijke Jeugd)
- FOS Open Scouting
- JNM (Jeugdbond voor Natuur- en Mileustudie)
- Wel Jong Niet Hetero
© Silke Van Damme © Brecht Vanderveken