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Home Moving to Belgium About Belgium A guide to the Belgian people
Last update on March 14, 2022
Written by CIA World Factbook

Despite its’ small footprint, Belgium is a diverse, culture-rich country. Learn all about the Belgian people and the different cultural groups that call Belgium home.

In Flanders

The Flemish think of themselves as hardworking, honest and dependable. Look at Bruges, Ghent and Antwerp, a magnificent trio of cities, with their great cathedrals and wonderful collections of art. These were virtually city-states in their day, and still have an air of individual civic pride and autonomy about them.

Today the Flemish stand proud: they feel that their star is in the ascendant, and after centuries of being kicked around by the French-speaking Belgians they know that the boot is now on the other foot. As the old heavy industries of Wallonia collapsed, new light industries and the port facilities in the north, as well as tourism, have brought an economic renaissance for Flanders. It is now ranked as one of the most prosperous regions in Europe, leading the rest in information technology, pharmaceuticals and electrical industries.

The Flemish see themselves at the sharp end of the European economic revival. They pride themselves on their honesty, good nature and humanity, and feel they are cultured in a way that could not be labelled ostentatious. In fact, very Belgian.

In Wallonia

The French-speaking Belgians are more likely than the Flemish to see themselves first and foremost as Belgians. The truth is that they are passing through troubled times. They see themselves as being between a rock and a hard place.

The French-speakers have lost power. They have lost the initiative in a land in which they were once the undisputed masters. Wallonia is taking on the aspect of a pleasant, sleepy province somewhere vaguely in Europe.

The French-speaking Bruxellois see themselves as even more threatened. Encircled by Flanders, they find that the Flemish want to make Brussels the capital of Flanders, despite the fact that the majority of Bruxellois are francophone. (‘It depends how you draw the map of Brussels,’ retort the Flemish.) In a word, the French-speakers of Belgium consider themselves oppressed. They find this hard to accept, for they see themselves as hardworking, dependable, good-natured, sociable and cultured (but not excessively), and rather undeserving of their relegation to playing second fiddle.

Geography

Location: Western Europe, bordering the North Sea, between France and the Netherlands.

Geographic coordinates: 50 50 N, 4 00 E

Area: 30,528 sq km
Country comparison to the world: 141

Land: 30,278 sq km
Water: 250 sq km

Land boundaries: 1, 385 km
Border countries: France 620 km, Germany 167 km, Luxembourg 148 km, Netherlands 450 km.

Coastline: 66.5 km

Climate: Temperate; mild winters, cool summers; rainy, humid and cloudy.

Terrain: Flat coastal plains in the northwest, central rolling hills and rugged mountains of the  Ardennes Forest in the south-east.

Elevation extremes:
Lowest point: North Sea 0 m
Highest point: Signal de Botrange 694 m

Natural resources: Construction materials, silica sand and carbonates.

People and Society

Nationality:
Noun: Belgian(s)
Adjective: Belgian

Ethnic groups: Flemish 58 percent, Walloon 31 percent, mixed or other 11 percent.

Languages: Dutch (official) 60 percent, French (official) 40 percent, German (official) less than 1 percent.  Brussels is officially a bilingual (Dutch and French) city.

Religions: Roman Catholic 75 percent, other (includes Protestant) 25 percent

Population: 10,438,353 (July 2012 est.)
Country comparison to the world: 82

Age structure:
0-14 years:15.9 percent (male 846,706/female 812,486)
15-64 years: 66.1 percent (male 3,475,404/female 3,416,060)
65 years and over: 18 percent (male 783,895/female 1,096,926)

Median age:
Total: 42.3 years
Male: 41 years
Female: 43.6 years

Population growth rate: 0.061 percent
Country comparison to the world: 184

Birth rate: 10.03 births/1,000 population (2012 est)
Country comparison to the world: 191

Death rate: 10.63 deaths/1,000 population (2012 est)
Country comparison to the world: 45

Major cities – population:
Brussels (capital) 1.892 million; Antwerp 961,000.
N.B. In Dutch, Brussels is Brussel and Antwerp is Antwerpen.  In French, Brussels is Bruxelles and Antwerp is Anvers.  Travellers to Belgium should always acquaint themselves with both the Dutch and French (and sometimes German) spellings of towns.  One example of a town having three names is Liège in which the English and French names are the same, but the Dutch name is Luik and the German name is Lüttich.

Health expenditures: 11.8 percent of GDP
Country comparison to the world: 12

Doctors’ density: 2.987 doctors/1,000 population
Country comparison to the world: 41

Hospital bed density: 6.6 beds/1,000 population
Country comparison to the world: 17

Education expenditures: 6.01 percent of GDP
Country comparison to the world: 29