Getting ready for Antwerp - Belgian social etiquette class for travellers! - TennisForum.com
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post #1 of 42 (permalink) Old Feb 3rd, 2005, 04:00 PM Thread Starter
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Getting ready for Antwerp - Belgian social etiquette class for travellers!

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!

Social Contacts

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? )

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Last edited by fifiricci; Feb 3rd, 2005 at 04:07 PM.
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post #2 of 42 (permalink) Old Feb 3rd, 2005, 05:02 PM
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LMAO...I'm a Belgian in Belgium for almost 22 years now and never ever did anyone brush my hand with a kiss
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post #3 of 42 (permalink) Old Feb 3rd, 2005, 05:34 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by tfannis
LMAO...I'm a Belgian in Belgium for almost 22 years now and never ever did anyone brush my hand with a kiss
, but same here...

really funny article! some of those things are true!! but all very cliché of course

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post #4 of 42 (permalink) Old Feb 3rd, 2005, 05:53 PM
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that article is too funny

But now that I come to think of it, I never kiss friends lips-to-cheek, I just push my cheek against theirs, as they say in the article.
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post #5 of 42 (permalink) Old Feb 3rd, 2005, 07:29 PM
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Yeah lmao I thought of that too...Funny the cheek-cheek thingy gets noticed
Oh and touching while speaking is uncommon indeed, but I don't think a finger snap or shoulder pats are bad manners I wouldn't backslap anyone though
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post #6 of 42 (permalink) Old Feb 3rd, 2005, 07:56 PM
 
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fifi, you can kiss me anytime you'd like!
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post #7 of 42 (permalink) Old Feb 3rd, 2005, 08:18 PM
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very good question Fiona, because in france where I live it's 2 kisses (well more like cheek to cheek things), if you go more east in the south, they do 3 and in Paris they do 4... So now I'm gonna be confused in Belgium

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post #8 of 42 (permalink) Old Feb 3rd, 2005, 08:24 PM
 
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I can't speak for all belgian people, but I give 3 (cheek to cheek) to people that I don't really know, and 1 (cheek to cheek) to really good friends
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post #9 of 42 (permalink) Old Feb 3rd, 2005, 08:25 PM
 
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Quote:
Originally Posted by fifiricci
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.

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.
Well, I don't agree with the being very reserved thingy ... In the company where I work, everybody calls everybody with their first name, no matter if the person you are talking to is the 'big boss' or just a collegue you work with - or if it's someone from abroad (always first names). It can be a little bit embarressing sometimes when you are calling to another country where calling people with there first name is not done (I have this esp. with some contactpersons in Germany - although I have contacts with them for over 5 years now, they still want to be addressed with Mister / Miss and then there last name ..., while when they ask my name, I just say Cindy - and then they are going like 'Ok, miss Cindy ...' )

And I also don't agree with the usage of the familiar form (jij - ge). I thought we did that very fast. Some of my Dutch collegues say we 'tutoyeren' (be on familiar terms with someone) too fast ...

About the kisses. It's right, it's 3 kisses on the cheeck. In some regions it's done a lot (kissing when you meet a friend) and in other regions, they just shake hands ... (I prefer the kissing ).

But don't worry Fiona, most of us Belgians are very friendly to foreign people. So whenever you have a question, don't hesitate to ask someone, he/she will be more then happy to help you.
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post #10 of 42 (permalink) Old Feb 3rd, 2005, 08:25 PM Thread Starter
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Quote:
Originally Posted by chaotic
fifi, you can kiss me anytime you'd like!
ditto, but only cheeks!

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post #11 of 42 (permalink) Old Feb 3rd, 2005, 08:28 PM
 
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Quote:
Originally Posted by chaotic
I can't speak for all belgian people, but I give 3 (cheek to cheek) to people that I don't really know, and 1 (cheek to cheek) to really good friends
Same here Chaotic. But with people I don't know really well, I also depends what they 'want'. Not that I'm gonna ask them , but most of the time you can 'read' it from there body language.
Really good friends, it's one kiss.
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post #12 of 42 (permalink) Old Feb 3rd, 2005, 08:28 PM Thread Starter
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Quote:
Originally Posted by yasmine
very good question Fiona, because in france where I live it's 2 kisses (well more like cheek to cheek things), if you go more east in the south, they do 3 and in Paris they do 4... So now I'm gonna be confused in Belgium
That's why I felt I had to check the etiquette out, Yas, because in my expeirence of living in France, it changes all the bloody time!

Even in Wales we are into this kissing game now though, and lots of people greet eachother with TWO kisses.

And you make "mwah mwah" noises when you're doing it too

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post #13 of 42 (permalink) Old Feb 3rd, 2005, 08:30 PM
 
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Originally Posted by fifiricci
ditto, but only cheeks!
absolutely!
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post #14 of 42 (permalink) Old Feb 3rd, 2005, 08:30 PM Thread Starter
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Originally Posted by teigetje
But don't worry Fiona, most of us Belgians are very friendly to foreign people. So whenever you have a question, don't hesitate to ask someone, he/she will be more then happy to help you.
Well thats nice to know. If I bump into Luc and he steps on my foot, he'll have to give me FOUR kisses to say sorry! If he helps me with anything (like directions to the bar) he might get FIVE kisses from me and maybe even a friendly wink too!

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post #15 of 42 (permalink) Old Feb 3rd, 2005, 08:32 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by teigetje
Same here Chaotic. But with people I don't know really well, I also depends what they 'want'. Not that I'm gonna ask them , but most of the time you can 'read' it from there body language.
Really good friends, it's one kiss.
Same here too

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