Culture

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.

Family values

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.

Appearance matters

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.

Egalitarism

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 leavesexual harassment.

Etiquette & habits in Belgium

greetings


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 

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.

Clothing

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.

Leisure time 

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.

Youth movements

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

 


© Silke Van Damme                                                                                                                 © Brecht Vanderveken

Sports

Sports are indispensible in Belgium. It is very often seen as a relaxing and healthy activity.
Primary and secondary schools are obliged to include sport in their syllabuses. Sports after school are not organised by the school itself.
What you can do as a high school student is apply for a Sport after School Pass. This allows you to do cheaper sports in your neighborhood.
The SNS pass is a sports pass for secondary school pupils that allows you to participate in various sports activities during a certain period of time after school hours. With an SNS pass you can play sports where, when, how much and with whom you want. An SNS card costs 30 euros for 1 period, for two periods you pay 45 euros.
And of course, there are numerous teams, clubs and organizations you can join.

Colleges of higher education and universities do not organise sports within the timetables. You can buy a sports card at most colleges and universities. This allows you to practice different sports without any obligation. It is best to ask your own university or college if they provide this kind of activities and what you have to do to subscribe.
As a child under the age of 12, as a student and as a 65+’er you can very often get discounts on turn cards or subscriptions. Please do not hesitate to ask for that.

The public roads, with the exception of the motorways, are fully accessible for recreational sports such as walking or cycling.
There are also many hiking and biking trails available. An overview of the different routes can be found (in Dutch) here. In Dutch only.
If you would like more information about sports and sports opportunities in Flanders and Brussels? click here.  in Dutch 

Culture
Culture is for everyone and does not have to be expensive. With the UitPAS, for example, you have a lot of extra advantages when you go to the theatre, attend a performance or a concert.
What is an UitPAS and for whom is it?

UitPAS is for everyone who wants to use it. UiTPAS is a savings and benefits program that aims to stimulate leisure participation. This is done by means of a points savings system: each card holder receives one point per participation in an UiTPAS activity. These points are collected on the profile of the card holder and can be exchanged for advantages.
You can collect and exchange points in all regions where UiTPAS is active. With an UiTPAS from the city of Aalst you can also earn points in Leuven and use an advantage in Maasmechelen. You can only get a discount in the UiTPAS region where the participant is registered.

UiTPAS is your savings and discount card for leisure activities.

  • You can earn points each time you take part in an UiTPAS activity.
  • These points can be exchanged for extra benefits.
  • Anyone who buys an UiTPAS will immediately get a number of welcome benefits.
  • People with an opportunity status are entitled to greatly reduced rates when purchasing and participating in UiTPAS activities.

Cultural Centres

Cultural centres are a well-known concept in Belgium. Every city or municipality has one. Abbreviated : CC. At the CC’s, you can enjoy performances, lectures, events and much more.
It is the meeting place for culture in your neighborhood. Every city or municipality provides every inhabitant with a cultural agenda. In it you will find all the planned events that take place in your city or municipality. Of course, most CCs also have an online agenda. Want to know what’s going on in the neighbouring CCs? Then it’s best to check the website.

A list of all cultural centres in Flanders and Brussels can be found here. In Dutch only

Museums

OnErfgoedkaart.be  you can find an interactive map, on which you can search for heritage organisations in Flanders and Brussels, including museums, by sector and municipality.
OnErfgoedkaart.be  you can find useful information about museums in Flanders and Brussels that are recognized by the Flemish government. Among other things, you can read about this :

  • What can be seen
  • Opening days and hours
  • Accessibility and location
  • Educational function: possibilities of guided tours
  • Facilities: library, cafeteria, museum shop
  • An extensive exhibition calendar

 

Trips

Amusement parks
Of course, leisure time consists of more than sport and culture. Trips are at least as fun. An amusement park is something you can do with both friends and family. Not always cheap, but always fun guaranteed. Below you will find a list of all the amusement parks you can go to. On the website of the park itself, you will find more information about opening hours and prices.
Most websites are in Dutch 

 

Animal parks 
In addition to amusement parks, Belgium is also rich in animal parks. An excursion that is suitable for everyone, of every age. Below you can also find a list of all accessible animal parks in Belgium. When you click on the link, you will also immediately find the opening hours and prices.
Most websites are in Dutch or French

 

The seaside 
The sea or ‘the zji’ in West-Flemish, attracts a lot of people on a day off or at weekends. It is something typically Belgian to do. A walk along the dike or on the beach in better weather, an ice cream afterwards and a tasty meal, usually with fish or mussels. Relaxation is the trump card.
In the picture below you can find the most visited seaside resorts of Belgium. They are easily reached by train or car. If you already live in West Flanders, then the bus is very often also an option.

City visits 

Visiting a city is very often done in Belgium. Because our country is small, you can be anywhere pretty fast. It is easy to go for a day trip to Hasselt, Leuven, Antwerp, Brussels or Ghent for example. Shopping, walking through the streets and eating something are common activities.
Metropolises are also easily accessible by car or public transport. If you don’t live that far, going by bike is also an option.

Festivals

Belgium is a well-known country for its numerous festivals. You need not go far to find some sort of festival you can go to.
On this website you can find all about the festivals that are going on and are coming soon. 

Other
If you’re a little more adventurous, you can try paintball, laser shooting, karting, kayaking and so on. Slightly more expensive activities, but certainly nice.

Wild camping is not allowed. If you want to spend the night in a tent, you should go to cleared camping areas. It is allowed to camp in your own garden or the garden of somebody else if they allow you to camp there.

Belgian food

Belgians are known as real ‘Burgundians’. This means that they love food and drinks. In general, Belgian food is very rich. A traditional Belgian meal is not complete without potatoes. Butter, cheese, meat and milk are also important components of Belgian cuisine.

As you can read above, Belgians are carnivores.

Important for people who do not eat pork: pork is regularly on the menu. So be careful when buying sausage or minced meat. There is a good chance that pork will be included in these and many other preparations.
When eating out, it is best to check and ask how your dish is prepared when you follow certain dietary requirements.

Important for people who do not eat beef: beef is often prepared in Belgian cuisine. So you can also ask the butcher, or check on the packaging whether or not there is beef processed in your order or purchase. When eating out, it is best to check how your dish is prepared when you follow certain dietary requirements.


In department stores, vegetarian and vegan options are certainly available. So it should not be too difficult to find meat substitutes at a supermarket nearby. Eating out should not be a problem neither. Most of the restaurants and brasseries have vegetarian and/or vegan options on the menu. If there is no vegetarian or vegan option on the menu, you can certainly ask the staff it they are willing to preparer something for you.

 

 


Halal meat is available from specialized butchers and drugstores. These are often located in a particular region of a city. You may find it difficult to find halal in smaller towns or municipalities.

 

 

 


Kosjer is not so easy to find. It should be easier to find in the Antwerp region. Antwerp is also home to the largest Jewish community in our country.

 

 

 

 

Typical dishes from Belgium can be found here:

Chicory with cheese and ham in the oven

Flickr: [puamelia]

A chicory gratin, also known as ‘hespenrolletjes, made with precooked chicory that is rolled up in boiled ham, covered with a bechamel sauce and gratined with melted cheese.
If you want to prepare this yourself, click here . The recipe is in Dutch.

Mussels and fries 

Flickr: fred_v

Delicious because of the taste and the successful combination are a large bowl of mussels with a plate of Belgian fries. Some special mussel sauce to dip your mussels in and a spoonful of mayonnaise for the fries. You’re ready to go.

If you want to prepare this yourself, click here.The recipe is in Dutch.

Waffles

Flickr: Mary Lee Hahn

The Brussels and Liège waffles are both delicious but differ in taste, dough and texture. The Brussels waffle is light and is made with butter, sugar and possibly garnished with fruit or whipped cream. The Liège wafer is heavier, sweeter because pearl sugar is added, and is eaten without garnish or some extra sugar.

If you want to prepare your own, click here for the Liège waffles and here for the Brussels ones.The recipe is in Dutch.

Blood sausage and weisswurst

Flickr: avlxyz

Weisswurst is a white sausage made with milk. The delicate taste and fine texture is different from the other sausages you can buy. Weisswurst is grilled or baked and is tasty with mashed potatoes and apple sauce. The black sausage is made with blood and is very tasty as well.

If you want to prepare this yourself, click here.The recipe is in Dutch. 

Fries

The fries in Belgium are the best you can find. Even if we do say so ourselves. There are several chip stalls in every town where you can buy fries, along with a wide choice of sauces and special meats.

You can find all fries shops here and if you want to prepare this yourself click here.The recipe is in Dutch.

 

Mashed potatoes or ‘stoemp’ 

Flickr: Alan (merrionsq)

Mashed potatoes are prepared with milk, butter and sometimes an egg yolk is stirred into it. Vegetables can be mixed in as well, then you for example have root puree or endive puree.

If you want to prepare this yourself, click here.The recipe is in Dutch.

Shrimp

Flickr: Nate Gray: A Culinary (Photo) Journal

These small grey shrimps are caught in the North Sea. You can buy them shelled or unpeeled. They are delicious in a dish where a tomato is stuffed with shrimp, with an egg or you can just eat them pure.

If you want to prepare a well-known summer dish starring prawns, click here.The recipe is in Dutch.

Chocolate

Flickr: portmanteaus

There are more than 2,000 chocolatiers in Belgium who make the most delicious chocolate. The quality is guaranteed by a law dating from 1884 in which the composition of chocolate is laid down. You can find the chocolate in specialty stores in cities and municipalities, but also in the department store.

If you would like to make delicious chocolatemousse with Belgian chocolate, click here. The recipe is in Dutch. 

Beef stew with beer 

Flickr: Kmeron

Beef stew prepared with a heavy Belgian beer. Delicious with fries.

If you want to prepare this yourself, click here.The recipe is in Dutch.

Filet Américain

Flickr: Kyle Taylor, Dream It. Do It.

Raw meat, shopped up and mixed with spices and an raw egg yolk.

If you want to prepare this yourself,  Click here.The recipe is in Dutch. 

Biscoff or ‘speculaas’ 

Flickr: jenny downing

Speculaas is made with cinnamon. It is a biscuit that is often served alongside a coffee in a café. The biscuits are sold at bakers’ shops as well as in department stores.

Waterzooi

Flickr: Smabs Sputzer

A kind of meal soup with a nice sauce, chicken or fish and vegetables.

If you want to prepare this yourself, click here.The recipe is in Dutch. 

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