I have travelled extensively throughout Europe, but 17 February will bring my first ever trip to Belgium, so I thought I would check out the protocol for "the greetings kiss", as this tends to vary from country to country and even from region to region within countries (hence the "Glasgow" kiss in the UK
I did an internet search and found a site (expatriate-online.com to be exact) that gave the following information (I think its aimed at Americans). I must say I was SHOCKED by the content, because it makes Belgians out to be a right stuffy lot, with no kissing unless you are practically engaged to be married!!!!!!!!!!!!!
(and none of us want to go there right now, do we):
Belgians, please read these extracts and advise me!!!! I dont want to make any awful social gaffes, but I have to say that some of the bits of advice sound like they were written in the 1800s
Guide to Social Customs and Etiquette
Belgians are far more reserved than North Americans. While cordial at work, they are slow to call casual acquaintances or even colleagues by their first names.
Let the Belgian make the first move and take your cue from this. The younger generation of Belgians, or Belgians who have lived abroad or who work for multinational companies and are used to foreigners' ways, are much less formal in their business and personal relationships.
Belgians have a great respect for privacy. It is not unusual for them to be on nodding-only terms with their neighbors - even other Belgians- but particularly with expatriates who are in Belgium temporarily and will move back home or on to another foreign assignment in a year or so.
If you are invited to a Belgian home, remember that Belgians are very house-proud. The cloth on the floor just inside the front door is there for you to wipe your feet. Use it!
Upon meeting and greeting acquaintances, on the telephone, in small shops and restaurants, and at the supermarket checkout counter, always start off with a polite word of greeting. Bonjour, Monsieur Madame or Goede morgen Meneer/Mevrouw, and Au revoir, Monsieur/Madame or Goedendag or Dag, Meneer/Mevrouw are universally used to say "Hello" and "Goodbye." When addressing people, always add Monsieur, Madame or Mademoiselle or the Dutch equivalents, Meneer, Mevrouw or juffrouw, after your greeting. Not to do so is considered impolite. In conversation, avoid using the familiar form of you - tu or jij- unless they have been used in addressing you first or if you are talking to a child.
Belgians do a lot of handshaking.
When you are first introduced to someone, offer your hand and extend a few words along with your name. For example, "Good evening. Jane Smith." Also shake hands when greeting or leaving someone. Even if your arms are full, you still extend a little finger to be shaken.
When you arrive at an office or a business meeting, shake hands with everyone there. Do the same when you leave. At a large party, rely on the host or hostess to introduce you to the entire group. It is not necessary to shake hands with each person.
Once you know someone well, handshaking may be replaced by kissing, but never with the lips - you simply touch cheek-to-cheek and kiss the air. Begin with your right cheek and alternate right, left, right, for a total of three kisses (les trois bises/drie zoenen).
Men may kiss women, women may kiss other women, but two men usually shake hands. A single kiss on the right cheek is reserved for close friends. If in doubt, always leave it to the Belgian to make the first move.
Although less common nowadays, an aristocratic gentleman may reach for a lady's hand to brush it with a kiss
. Be prepared to accept this charming Old World courtesy.
(if I'm lucky enough to meet an aristocrat I will!)
In conversation, avoid touchy subjects such as Belgium's colonial past, religion or the linguistic problem, particularly if you are not well informed. For more about the latter, see the chapters "Getting to Know the Country" and "The Language Question" in this book, or brush up on the topic by reading The Political History of Belgium, from 1830 onwards by Els Witte, Jan Craeybeckx and Alain Meynen (VUB University Press 2001). If Belgians do discuss controversial issues in your presence, listen carefully and don't be shy about asking questions.
Another point to keep in mind is that in informal conversation there is less touching than most Americans may be used to. Patting shoulders, backslapping and snapping fingers are considered bad manners.
Learning a few basic expressions in French and Dutch will go a long way. English is generally understood and spoken by many people here, but you will still need a bare minimum to get by in shops and on the telephone. Working towards a knowledge of basic grammar, vocabulary and phrases in at least one of the two main official languages should be a priority item on your "to do" list. Certainly it increases your ability to handle daily transactions and problems and will enhance your chances of forming Belgian friendships, thus maximizing your enjoyment of your stay here.
Don't try to show off your high school French in Flanders, the Dutch-speaking northern part of the country. That would be adding fuel to the fires of Flemish-Walloon squabbles. Similarly, don't dabble in Dutch in the south of the country where French is the official language. If you don't know the language of the region, your best bet is to speak English.
(at the risk of being thought forward, can't I do the three kisses for my virtual internet friends?