Xenophobe's® Guides: Belgian manners and etiquette
Find out how to perfect Belgians' marathon greetings and the art of lavish gift-giving to stay on a Belgian's good side.
Xenophobe's® Guides: A book series that highlights the unique character and behaviour of different nations with insight and humour.
It is important to acknowledge people fully on every meeting in Belgium, with a triple kiss to relatives and friends (even fairly new and casual ones), or by shaking hands with more distant friends and acquaintances, and with a hello to shopkeepers, petrol station attendants, waiters, etc. Failure to do so may draw the conclusion that you are unforgivably rude or up to no good. Since everyone knows everyone else in a Belgian village, a Belgian progressing through his or her own patch will dance a kind of pavane of kissing, handshaking and waving.
Boys expect to be kissed by both women and men up to adolescence, but close male relatives and old chums will also plant firm kisses on each other's grizzled cheeks until the grave. Saying please, thank you and goodbye with appropriate elaboration is a habit inculcated from infancy, and the reluctant child will be dragged kicking and screaming across the floor to elderly relatives to deliver the obligatory thank-you kisses.
The Belgians are extravagantly generous with gifts. Whether they come to stay, or just come to dinner, they are liable to bring chocolates (top-quality), wine, flowers and a gift for the children. Birthdays are never missed, and Christmas is a time of spectacular generosity when no-one will be left out.
Flowers are presented on the flimsiest pretext. Florists are respected members of society and every community will have several, selling an astonishing range of very fresh blooms.
If you do not reciprocate in kind – it might be ruinous to do so – the Belgians are not in the slightest bit put out. The pleasure of giving is genuine, and once done is forgotten. There is no hidden profit and loss account. However, persistent failure to show willing will be noticed eventually and count against you. The Dutch, apparently, have done this as a nation. One of the Belgians' major criticisms of the Dutch is that they do not give gifts.
For more, read The Xenophobe's Guide to the Belgians.
Reproduced from Xenophobe's Guide to the Belgians by kind permission of Xenophobe's® Guides.
Photo credit: Bert Heymans
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