Belgium: duality of cultures
Belgium is very heavily reliant on international trade and foreign investment. Its geographic location and prominent position within the EU structure has made the country, and Brussels in particular, a haven for inward investment. The cosmopolitan nature of the business environment has, obviously, had an on-going impact on the development of business structures. As the country experiences a process of change from strict hierarchical alignments to a more matrix approach, it is dangerous to make any assumptions about a potential client or collaborator in advance. Do the necessary research before entering into negotiations.
This is a country of two parts; the French-speaking Walloons and the Flemish-speaking Flanders. It is probably safest to speak English even if you are fluent in French. By speaking in French you are instantly allying yourself to one particular faction. English is far more neutral and is widely spoken (especially in Brussels).
Flemings would tend to be direct in their speech, saying more or less what they mean in a matter of fact way, whilst arrogance or boastfulness should be avoided at all costs. The Walloons share the French love of rhetoric and therefore will tend to be somewhat more voluble than their fellow countrymen.
Meetings are characterised by the search for a pragmatic, workable solution to whatever the problem might be. Confrontation and dogmatism are to be avoided and everybody’s views should be given attention. It is rare for open disagreements to arise in meetings, although it is more likely to happen in Flanders, where plain talking is more respected than in the more diplomatic French-language areas of Wallonia.
Brussels is considered by some to be one of the culinary capitals of the world and food plays an important role in Belgian life. Eating and drinking are not merely functional activities but should be enjoyed as one of the great pleasures of life. Therefore, if you are invited to a business lunch or dinner try to avoid talking business during the meal unless your Belgian host raises the subject – just enjoy the experience.
Share your experiences of doing business in Belguim.