Belgium Cultural Analysis

Last Updated: 31 Jul 2021
Essay type: Analysis
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II .Brief Discussion of Belgium’s relevant history

III. Geographical Setting

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  • a. Location - between France (S) and Holland (N); Germany and Luxembourg (E); and North Sea (W)
  • b. Climate - Belgium has temperate weather, warm in summer (May to September) and cool to cold in winter, with snow very likely. temperate; mild winters, cool summers; rainy, humid, cloudy
  • c. Topography - The coastal region, extending about 16–48 km (10–30 mi) inland, consists of sand dunes, flat pasture land, and polders (land reclaimed from the sea and protected by dikes), and attains a maximum of 15 m (50 ft) above sea level.

Eastward, this region gradually gives way to a gently rolling central plain, whose many fertile valleys are irrigated by an extensive network of canals and waterways. Altitudes in this region are about 60–180 m (200– 600 ft). The Ardennes, a heavily wooded plateau, is located in southeast Belgium and continues into France. It has an average altitude of about 460 m (1,500 ft) and reaches a maximum of 694 m (2,277 ft) at the Signal de Botrange, the country's highest point.

Chief rivers are the Schelde (Scheldt, Escaut) and the Meuse (Maas), both of which rise in France, flow through Belgium, pass through the Netherlands, and empty into the North Sea.

IV. Social Institutions

  • a. Family

i. The nuclear family - Belgians are among the happiest, most satisfied people in the world and among the least likely to leave their country. happiness is a safe and comfortable life shared with family and friends. Much of the Belgian culture revolves around their family. The Belgian family has remained very close-knit despite great changes in society due to industrialization.

Most children have a strong sense of loyalty not only to their parents, but also to grandparents, siblings and cousins. The extended family has remained relatively close. It is not unusual for a family to live in the same neighborhood or even the same house throughout a lifetime. The average Belgian family size is 2. 9 people.

ii. The extended family - The extended family has remained relatively close. It is not unusual for a family to live in the same neighborhood or even the same house throughout a lifetime. iii. Dynamics of the family . parental roles - parents in Belgium sent their children to preschool programs so that they could learn to become more independent and socially adept. Most Belgian children over age 2 attend these state-funded programs full-time. Belgian parents listed smaller classes and more physical education and music as desirable improvements.

Marriage and Courtship

Long marriage engagements are common, as is living together before or instead of marriage. Only civil marriages are legal, but many couples also have a religious ceremony. As you declare your wedding in Belgium, the first thing that you must do is to print two wedding invitations, one from the groom's family and the other from the bride's family. The invitations are a symbol of the union of the two families as well as the beginning of the new union. Following the ancient Belgium tradition the bride must walk up the isle to hand her mother a single flower which is followed by an embracing. After your marriage is over the bride presents the groom's mother a single flower and then the two of them embrace. This symbolizes the bride's acceptance of her new "mother" which is simply fantastic.

Another noteworthy wedding feature in Belgium is that the bride must carry a specially embroidered handkerchief with her name on it. This is required as after your marriage celebration is over this handkerchief is framed and hung on the wall in a place of honor. There is more to add to this tradition. This very handkerchief is passed on to the next female member of the bride's family when she plans to get married. iv. Female/Male Roles – Fathers are ultimate decision makers. Mothers discipline and rule household matters

v. Education

1. The role of education in society

a. Primary

b. Secondary


d. The structure of the educational system consists of pre school (3-6 years); six years of primary school and six years of secondary school.

Belgium has two systems of education: the state system and the private (mostly Catholic) system. Education is free in both of these systems, and the curriculum is the same. There are four types of education:

  • General Secondary Education (ASO): general education; mostly theoretical that prepares students for higher education.
  • Art Secondary Education (KSO): Along with general subjects, students take visual arts, music, dance, drama, etc.

A previous knowledge of the subject is required.

Professional Secondary Education (BSO): in this category students may choose from a selection of courses such a hairdressing, car mechanics, and sewing, among others. Students completing the 12th year level receive certificate of higher secondary education. This diploma is sufficient for higher specialized study: interpreting, architecture, technical engineering, pedagogy, etc. Only 16 17% of Belgian students graduate at this level. Education is considered very important in Belgium. Therefore standard are high and students take school very seriously.

At Christmas and Easter schools are closed for two weeks. Carnaval and All Saints Day (Nov. 1) bring short breaks of a week each. Summer holidays (vacation) last from June 30 to September 1. 2. Literacy rates – 99% over 15 can read and write vi. Political System

Stability of Government – Very Stable; Original member of EU and debt = 80% of GDP 4. Special Taxes - Expatriates in Belgium are generally regarded as Belgian tax residents and are therefore subject to Belgian income tax on their worldwide income. However, the Belgian authorities have encouraged multinationals to transfer foreign executives to Belgium by introducing special tax concessions to non-Belgians who are ‘temporarily’ working in the country. The tax concessions allow such expatriates to be treated as non-residents for tax purposes. The concessions do not apply to inheritance tax.

To qualify for these special concessions, a number of factors are considered e. g. ‘does the employment contract specify a limited time? ’, ‘has the expatriate’s family moved? ’, ‘is the expatriate’s centre of economic and/or personal interest in Belgium? ’, ‘is the employment with a qualifying entity? ’. Under the special concessions: Only Belgian sourced income is taxable, including property income and dividend income, although total world-wide, earned income must be declared. Municipal taxes are payable at 7% of total income tax payable.

There is no capital gains tax, except for certain types of sale of Belgian property. Expatriates who benefit from the non-residents special tax regime cannot invoke double taxation agreements because they only apply for the benefit of Belgian residents. 5. Role of Local Government - Each of the provinces has a council of 50 to 90 members elected for four-year terms by direct suffrage and empowered to legislate in matters of local concern. A governor, appointed by the king, is the highest executive officer in each province. There are 589 communes.

Each municipality has a town council elected for a six-year term. The council elects an executive body called the board of aldermen. The head of the municipality is the burgomaster, who is appointed by the sovereign upon nomination by the town council. Recently, the number of municipalities has been greatly reduced through consolidation.

VI. Legal System

  • 1. Organization of judiciary system - The judiciary is an independent branch of government on an equal footing with the legislative and the executive branches. Minor offenses are dealt with by justices of the peace and police tribunals.

More serious offenses and civil lawsuits are brought before district courts of first instance. Other district courts are commerce and labor tribunals. Verdicts rendered by these courts may be appealed before 5 regional courts of appeal or the 5 regional labor courts in Antwerp, Brussels, Ghent, Mons, and Liege. All offenses punishable by prison sentences of more than five years must be dealt with by the eleven courts of assize (one for each province and the city of Brussels), the only jury courts in Belgium. The highest courts are five civil and criminal courts of appeal and the supreme Court of Cassation.

The latter's function is to verify that the law has been properly applied and interpreted. The constitutionality of legislation is the province of the Council of State, an advisory legal group.

  • 2. Code, common, socialist, or Islamic law country? Belgian Civil Code 3. Participation in Patents, trademarks, other conventions - Yes

VIII. Social Organizations

Social Classes - There is a relatively even distribution of wealth, with 5 to 6 percent living close to the poverty line. The majority of the population is middle class.

The vast majority has equal opportunities for education and a professional life. There is a very inclusive social security system.  Clubs, Other organizations - Belgium hosts many international organizations and hundreds of lobbying-groups, but their presence has little direct impact on social life. The most influential organizations are the Catholic Church and its affiliates and social organizations related to the pillars, such as trade unions.

Race, Ethnicity, and Sub culture - The nation's cultural diversity has been enriched by international and local immigration.

The high numbers of Flemish names in the south and Walloon names in the north indicate long time internal mobility. In the last hundred years the most important immigrant groups were Jews who form a sizable community in Antwerp; Poles, who came in the early 1930s and after the fall of communism; Italians (in the 1930s and 1950s); and North Africans and Turks, who arrived in the 1960s. There are many recent immigrants from other countries in the European Union as well as many expatriates working in or around European Union institutions and NATO headquarters.

The percentage of noncitizens in the population is high at 15 percent nationally and 28 percent in Brussels. ix. Business customs and practices

Relationships & Communication.

Although third-party introductions are not necessary, they often smooth the way. Regardless of how you are introduced, you must always be polite and well mannered. . Belgians are careful and prudent so take time before they trust others, be they individuals or representatives of companies. . Business dealings tend to be bureaucratic. There are many procedures and a great deal of paperwork.  Belgians are excellent linguists and many are sufficiently fluent to conduct meetings in English. . Belgians prefer subtlety to directness, believing that subtlety is a reflection of intelligence.  Although they are more direct in their communication than many cultures, if a response is too direct it may be seen as simplistic.  They prefer communication to be logical and based on reason . Belgians often engage in long, critical discussions before reaching a decision so that they can be certain that they have considered all the alternatives.  They believe it is rude to be confrontational. Business Meeting Etiquette . Appointments are necessary . The person you are meeting will generally set the time for the meeting, usually mid morning or mid afternoon. . Avoid scheduling meetings during July and August, which are prime vacation times; the week before Easter; and the week between Christmas and New Year. . Everyone is expected to arrive on time . Arriving late may brand you as unreliable. . Meetings are formal . First appointments are more socially than business oriented, as Belgians prefer to do business with those they know.  Do not remove your jacket during a meeting. Dress Etiquette . Men should wear dark coloured, conservative business suits with white shirts and silk ties. . Women should wear business suits or conservative dresses. . Men should only wear laced shoes, never loafers or other slip-ons, as they are too casual. Polished shoes are an integral part of a professional image. Business Cards . Business cards are exchanged without formal ritual. . Have one side of your business card translated into French or Dutch. This shows respect and understanding of the linguistic heritage of your colleagues.  If you have meetings in both areas, have two sets of business cards printed, and be careful to use the proper ones. . Present your business card so the recipient can read the side with their national language.

Religion and Aesthetics

Orthodox doctrines and structures - Catholicism is the main religious faith. The government financially supports the Catholic and Protestant churches as well as the Jewish and Muslim faiths. The Catholic Church controls an important network of schools with 70 percent of the pupils in secondary education and two main universities.

Religious beliefs and practice declined during the twentieth century, but approximately 65 percent of Belgians believe in God. Many people who say they do not believe in God take part in religious rituals for major events such as baptisms, weddings, and funerals. Minority faiths include Muslims, Jews, and Protestants.

Relationships with the people - The Catholic Church controls an important network of schools with 70 percent of the pupils in secondary education and two main universities.  Prominent religions – Catholicism iv. Membership of each religion v. Any powerful or influential cults?

Visual Arts - The golden age of graphic arts lasted from the fourteenth century to the seventeenth century and was embodied mostly in painting. The Flemish Primitives school of painting (fourteenth and fifteenth centuries) made the region the main artistic center of Europe outside of Italy. Artists such as Jan Van Eyck (1395–1441) and Rogier Van Der Weyden (1400–1464) were interested in spatial composition and psychology and rendered the colors and textures of living and material objects with realism. The main artistic figure of the next century was Pieter Breughel the Elder (1525–1569), with his lively paintings of peasant life.

Pieter Paul Rubens (1577–1640) was the most famous painter of his time, receiving commissions from European sovereigns. His main focus was on the human figure. Rubens influenced Anthony Van Dyk (1599–1641) and Jacob Jordaens (1593–1678). The graphic arts declined until the late nineteenth century, when James Ensor and Rene Magritte (in the twentieth century) revived the avant-garde. The most innovative works of living artists can be seen in contemporary art museums in Antwerp and Ghent.

Performing arts - The Franco-Flemish style dominated European music in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, with composers such as Josquin des Prez and Orlando di Lasso. In the twentieth century, the most famous Belgian musician was the singer Jacques Brel. Several living classical composers are active. The harmonica player Toots Thielemans is the most famous jazz musician. The Blindman Kwartet combines jazz, pop, and classical music. The presence in Brussels between 1959 and 1987 of the French choreographer Maurice Bejart stimulated a new generation of choreographers.

The main theatrical centers are De Singel in Antwerp and the Kaai Teater in Brussels. Several theaters and orchestras are supported by the government. iv. Folklore and relevant symbols – The calotte (plural calottes, French from Provencal calota or Italian callotta), is a skullcap worn by students at catholic universities in Belgium. In the front of the calotte are stripes representing the Belgium flag (black, yellow and red) and stripes representing the colors of the city or the university where the calotte has been received.

At the back of the calotte, the faculty of the student is represented by a color and a symbol, with if needed an additional symbol to determine the speciality. Golden stars around the calotte represent the number of years that the student has studied successfully (if a year has to be retaken, a silver star will represent it). In addition to that, a number of official and personal pins will be added to the calotte, all representing something about its owner examples include:

  • Official position in a student organisation (above the considered year's star) Hobbies and occupations (cardplayer, partyer... )
  • Character (patriot, lazy... ) the meaning of the calotte has evolved, but whatever the theories may be on its origins, the calotte is mainly a sign that indicates the student's belonging to a group. The student is also able to express his individuality by wearing several insignia on the calotte that will reflect their academic curriculum, their personal interests and even their character.

Living Conditions

Meat and vegetable consumption rates - Bread and potatoes are the traditional staple foods. Most meals include, pork, chicken, or beef, and Seafood is popular in the northern part of the country. The national drink is beer, but wine is imported in large quantities. In northern cities, popular dishes include mussels with fries and waterzooi a broth of vegetables and meat or fish. Throughout the country, French fries are eaten with steaks or minced raw meat. Cooking is traditionally done with butter rather than oil; there is also a high consumption of dairy products.

ii.Typical Meals - Traditionally, the noon meal is the main meal of the day: businessmen take a two-hour break and most children come home from school. This is the meal that begins with soup or hors d'oeuvres, then a hearty meat or fish dish with potatoes, followed by a separate course of salad or cooked vegetables. Frequently the meat is carved in the kitchen and the platter garnished with seasonal vegetables. It is interesting to note that vegetables and salads are almost a social status symbol – the higher the level, the more vegetables and salads are used.

For most families, however, potatoes are the only vegetable requirement. A dessert for dinner would be fruit and cheese, a tart or pudding. Wine or beer is usually served as well

iii. Malnutrition rates – n/a

iv. Foods available - The Belgian market offers good opportunities and has enjoyed considerable growth in recent years in the following areas:

  1.  health and organic foods,
  2. energy foods and sports drinks,
  3. snack foods,
  4. ethnic foods,
  5. ready-made and microwave products,
  6. frozen and fresh food and vegetables,
  7. ried fruits and nuts,
  8. wine,
  9. specialty meats such as bison and pet food,
  10. seafood, and
  11. specialty products (e. g. kosher food, wild rice,maple products and other confectionery goods etc. )
  • b. Housing i. Owning your own home isn’t considered such an important an investment as it is in some other countries. Types of housing available - While property in Belgium is cheap by UK standards, the various fees, charges and deposits associated with buying a house and securing a mortgage are likely to discourage all but the most determined buyers.

There’s no mortgage relief on income tax ii. Do more people own or rent?

iii. Do most live in one family dwellings or with other families?

i. National Dress - Belgians, especially those in the cities, wear modern Western-style clothes. The ethnic costumes of the Flemings and Walloons are seldom worn today. On some farms women still wear the traditional dark-colored clothing and white aprons, and men wear the old-fashioned caps.

ii. Types of clothes worn at work - Men who work in offices are expected to wear suit jackets to work.

It is generally acceptable for women to wear slacks to work.

  • d. Recreation, sports, and other leisure activities

i. Types available and in demand - The most popular participant sport in Belgium is bicycling. Belgians also participate in and watch soccer, and there are many regional teams. Other sports popular in Belgium include tennis, horseback riding, hiking, and skiing. Belgians also enjoy the popular European sport of sand sailing. A sort of minicar with sails called a "sand yacht" is driven along the coast, powered by the wind.

Also popular, especially in Wallonia, is pigeon racing. As many as 100,000 pigeons may be entered in a single race. Like many other Europeans, Belgians are avid soccer fans. There are over sixty teams in the national league. Concerts and theater are popular evening pastimes in the cities, and Brussels also has opera, ballet, and cafe cabarets (restaurants with musical entertainment such as singing and dancing). ii. Percentage of income spent on such activities – 9. 5% e. Social Security - Belgium has a comprehensive system of social security, which applies to all residents.

It covers family benefits, unemployment insurance, work accident insurance, health care, old age and invalidity pensions, and long-term care insurance. Belgium takes great pride in its benefits systems and the quality of its social security services, although the high cost of providing those services and benefits (employer contributions of up to 40 per cent plus employee contributions of up to 20 per cent of gross pay) has recently prompted the government to consider changes to the social security system in an attempt to encourage individuals to assume greater responsibility for the costs of retirement, disability and even health care. . HealthCare - Health insurance is mandatory in Belgium, and basic cover is generally provided by the national social security system. Contributions are paid by both employers and employees, and most forms of public assistance (unemployment benefit, old age pensions, certain forms of sickness and maternity benefits) are paid net of withholdings for health insurance, the benefit authority effectively paying the employer contributions. Foreigners coming to live in Belgium without working (e. . retirees and the ‘idle’ rich) must generally produce proof of health insurance in order to obtain a residence permit. There are special health insurance plans, valid in a number of countries, designed specifically for the needs of expatriates and those who travel frequently. If you qualify for ‘non-resident’ tax status, you may not be required to contribute to national social security, in which case you will probably be covered by your employer’s health care plan. (You should check! All employees and self-employed people in Belgium must contribute to a health insurance fund ( mutualite/ziekenfonds) as part of the normal social security enrolment process. Some funds are restricted to members of various religious, political or professional organisations for historic reasons, but most are open to all. Your employer should be able to provide you with information about available funds, and you should ask neighbours or colleagues for recommendations. All funds charge the same basic contribution and pay similar benefits, but some take longer than others to make reimbursements.

Health insurance contributions are made by your employer directly to your chosen fund. These amount to 7. 35 per cent of your gross salary, of which 3. 55 per cent is withheld from your pay and the remaining 3. 8 per cent contributed by your employer. If you’re self-employed, you contribute the full 7. 35 per cent through your quarterly social security payments. Cover is automatically provided for dependent family members, including spouses (if they don’t have their own cover) and children up to the age of 18.

When you enrol in a Belgian health fund, there’s a six-month waiting period before you can claim benefits. This waiting period can be waived if you were previously included for at least six months in another person’s health cover (i. e. as a dependant) or, in many cases, if you were covered by a state health care plan (or the equivalent) in another EU country for at least six months before your arrival in Belgium. For most medical services, you must pay the bill and then submit the receipt for reimbursement.

Reimbursements are usually less than the charges incurred, and most Belgians take out supplementary health insurance to cover the unreimbursed portion or to upgrade their cover from the statutory level. Many employers provide supplementary health insurance cover as an employment benefit, or you can purchase individual cover. Supplementary health insurance is also available to self-employed people through professional associations and private insurers. In typical Belgian fashion, the exact nature of what is and isn’t covered by the state system is rather complicated.

Services rendered by most doctors and specialists, hospitalisation, prescriptions, pregnancy and childbirth, rehabilitation and other forms of therapy are normally covered, although the self-employed are covered only for ‘major risks’, which include mental illness, tuberculosis, cancer, hereditary diseases and birth defects, most types of surgery and childbirth. There are no fewer than 18 categories of medical procedure and service, each with its own reimbursement level, varying from 0 to 100 per cent (although the number of items qualifying for 100 per cent reimbursement is constantly diminishing because of funding problems).

There are also certain ‘preferred’ categories of people who are entitled to a higher level of reimbursement for many items, including widows, orphans and those receiving certain forms of public aid (e. g. the blind). A standard doctor’s appointment, for example, is normally reimbursed at 75 per cent, whereas those in a preferred category may be reimbursed at 85 or 90 per cent, depending on their circumstances. It’s wise to keep copies of all receipts and any other documents you send to your health insurance fund in case anything is lost.

Rather than sending each receipt separately, it’s often better to collect all receipts for a given illness or accident or all receipts during a three or six-month period before submitting them for reimbursement. If you have supplementary insurance, your health fund usually forwards information to your private insurer, and both insurers normally pay reimbursements directly into your bank account. If you’re hospitalised, you must usually pay a fixed daily accommodation fee, either in advance or when you’re discharged, but the hospital normally sends all other bills directly to your health insurance fund.

In the case of prescriptions, if you take most of them to the same chemist, it’s usually possible to register with him so that he bills your health insurance fund directly. In this way you pay only the unreimbursed portion of the prescription fees, as well as saving yourself the headache of keeping track of your payments. Prescriptions are subject to a particularly complex scale of reimbursement percentages, according to the ‘social and medical usefulness’ of each medicine and whether it’s available ‘off the shelf’ or must be made up by a chemist.

Certain types of medicines have maximum patient contribution levels, where 100 per cent of charges are reimbursed after a certain period.


  • a. Official Language(s) - Belgium has three official languages: French, German, and Flemish, which is similar to Dutch.
  • b. Spoken vs. Written languages- N/A c. Dialects - Dutch in Belgium is virtually identical to Dutch in the Netherlands, with the exception of a few local terms and expressions, although certain areas in Dutch-speaking Belgium have local dialects that can sometimes be incomprehensible to speakers of standard Dutch.

The French spoken in Belgium is standard but with its own distinctive accent (at least according to the French! ) and a few specialised words, notably the use of septante and nonante for 70 and 90 instead of soixante-dix and quatre-vingt-dix. (Oddly, the Belgians do use quatre-vingt for the number 80 rather than octante, which is used in Switzerland and some other francophone areas of the world. )


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