3 Reasons You Don’t Have Many Belgian Friends

By paolacampo - April 8, 2014 (Updated: December 1, 2014)

Do you have Belgian friends?

Do you have Belgian friends? We share 3 reasons why you may not.

Our guest contributor tackles a common expat issue – making friends with Belgians. If you’ve ever felt you don’t click with the locals, Paola offers 3 reasons why you may not have many Belgian friends.

A couple of months ago, a co-worker decided to return to his home country after living in Belgium for several years. He originally moved to this land due to a very attractive job offer, but after awhile, he would complain about all the small cultural differences between his country and this one. Eventually, homesickness got the better of him.

Amongst the many questions, I asked about his life here that would trigger his decision to return home, there was one about his social life, more specifically about all his Belgian friends…

What are these Belgian friends you speak of? Other than the people from work, I don’t hang out with any Belgians! And not by choice I should say!

What followed was a small rant on how tight-knitted Belgians are and how inhospitable they are towards foreigners. Ok, that was probably a wide exaggeration, but it made me think about a very common pattern amongst the internationals, who I know, living in Belgium: when it comes to their social circles, Belgians are the minority group. Now, why is that? I went out and asked a bunch of people, Belgians included. Here’s what I found out:

1. Belgians have issues with commitment…

…meaning, they just have too many of them! If there is a top grievance that makes establishing long-lasting friendships with Belgians a huge challenge for us internationals, it is that we rarely get to see them.

I don’t think I’ve ever met a more schedule-loving group of people in my life! I personally struggled with this when I first came to live in this country, especially since I come from a land where I could just phone a friend and make impromptu plans for dinner that same day!

Even with most service providers, things happen with appointment (think of getting a haircut or a manicure) and there is rarely any sense of urgency (like when getting any medical diagnostic testing – X-Rays, MRIs, blood work, etc.).

The key to overcoming this situation is to be patient. By all means, take initiative and attempt hangouts with Belgians. Those who care will let you know, even if they can’t make it. However, if after a while a so-called “friend” doesn’t seem to respond to any of your invites, move on. They are probably really stuck on reason number 2.

2. Belgians really love their comfort zone

Who doesn’t love their comfort zone? However, Belgians sometimes take it to an extreme that many internationals find remarkable.

Have you ever heard how Belgians like to “stay close to their village”? This doesn’t just apply to driving 2 hours every day in traffic, rather than move closer to their workplace. It also means being close to their families and the friends they’ve known forever and ever.

Belgians pose an interesting contrast between a very progressive society, (for example, Belgium was second country in the world to legalize gay marriage) versus a populace that craves stability.

Are you planning things far enough in advance to include your schedule-loving Belgian friends?

Are you planning things far enough in advance to include your schedule-loving Belgian friends?

Maybe Belgium’s history has something to do with this. After all, this territory, we know as Belgium, has been invaded / occupied by so many throughout history, it’s no wonder its people crave the comforts of sameness.

Showing genuine interest in the life of your prospective Belgian friend (in an appropriate, non-stalker way, of course) can get her to open up and put you in a place within her inner circle! Now, you may not realize this because of reason number 3.

3. Belgians are so hard to read

The first few years I lived in Belgium I was very, very confused by my social interactions with Belgians. They generally seem soft-spoken, with the occasional rant here and there (usually complaining about something). Overall, no matter if dealing with someone from Brussels, Wallonia, or Flanders, Belgians appeared to me rather disaffected and generally cold and distant. Soft-spoken, cold and distant, disaffected, and yet with enough passion for the occasional rant. Sounds contradictory? That’s what I mean by hard to read.

Working with Belgians can be puzzling. Whether or not they are buying into what you are proposing is a mystery. If they are, they don’t show much enthusiasm about it, for sure!

When you really think about it, and analyze the situation, Belgians are actually more self-effacing than anything else. How many times have you ever heard Belgians sing boisterous praises about anything or anyone, including themselves?

Some (mainly Belgians) say this is modesty. Others (also Belgians) say Belgians underestimate themselves. Whichever it is, don’t give up the challenge of deciphering, if dealing with a friend or foe.

As with most relationships, building friendships with Belgians requires time and effort (maybe a tiny bit more than say, South Americans), genuine interest, and empathy.

Many internationals don’t even try, because they’re only here for a short period. But making new friends can be a challenge even for adult Belgians. Some of those I spoke to say, the social circles they’ve had since an early age haven’t changed much as adults.

I still think pursuing Belgian friendships is worth a try. Some of those general traits about Belgians have a great positive spin in the friendship department: they are true, loyal, and just about one of the nicest people you’ve ever met; even if their schedules only allow a get together once or twice a year!

Looking for more resources for living in Belgium? Check out our Expat Resources page.

Paola Campo is a communicator and knowledge enthusiast with a passion for blogging, learning, and reviewing "stuff". She gets to do most of that in her entertainment and lifestyle blog The Paola Campo Report, which you should totally be reading right now. You can also follow her on Facebook, Twitter, and Google+

Latest posts by Paola (see all)


Older comments
  1. Comment by Daniel

    Daniel April 10, 2014 at 19:25

    Well ‘friendly’ is kind of a big word for Belgians and I would rather say ‘kind’. I lived there for 5 years. Sometimes it seemed to me that Belgians are not even friends among them unless it is for some sort of convenience. They are not spontaneous and everything depends on the mentioned agendas and the calculation they do upfront. When u add the inherent stinginess you realize why it is not easy to makes friends with them. This does not apply for everyone but based on my experience and according to the observations of the people around me you can still make some general conclusions just like for any other nation. 

  2. Comment by Esmee

    Esmee April 10, 2014 at 20:16

    As a Dutch woman, married to a Belgian for many years, I cannot but agree with Paola. Of course you should not generalise, but these “patterns in behaviour” are true. I always feel I have to move very careful around them, never knowing what they truly think and I believe they are too afraid to say it out loud. I try not to sound too Dutch (an accent they despise) and after 25 years I have a few friends. But it was hard, very hard work…

    • Comment by Alain

      Alain April 13, 2014 at 07:10

      Esmee, after all these years, I find it a pity you still haven’t figured out that people in Belgium do not open up before feeling really comfortable with someone, because they like building trust, like their privacy and don’t feel they need to tell everyone what they think because of the previous two reasons. In that respect we may differ in our approach to relationships from other peoples, but I am not even sure of that. What I do know is that we do differ from the Dutch, that is a fact. We are definitely less outspoken and direct, but that isn’t necessarily a weakness, as I found out. Other than that, I don’t like these articles which generalise one person’s perception and experience about a whole nation in half a page. It’s just a matter of fact that when one is abroad it simply isn’t always that easy to make friends (and I mean true friends, not just people one meets for a drink or some chit-chat), because one tends to hang out more with expats and locals have their own social circles. They’re not just there waiting for you to get a life!

  3. Comment by Joli

    Joli April 10, 2014 at 20:27

    I have been living in Belgium for 1,5 years, and I have done my best to learn to speak the local language, which I more or less do by now. I am myself a reserved person but I decided to be open up for this society and I actually made (in my terms) many friends, both among foreigners and locals. I can also say that my best friend here is a Belgian person, and I can count on her whatever happens.
    I realized that the locals really appreciate my effort to speak their language and to integrate myself. And even though I still make grammatical mistakes and sometimes it must be quite hard to communicate with me, they never lose their patience. Generally I experienced a very friendly attitude towards myself.
    Some of the things that the author and others in this forum describe might be true in some cases, I agree that the Belgians can be hard to read, and I have also been surprised about how conservative the society is regarding their path of life (there is a certain age for studying, for marrying, etc. and if someone does things a bit later than the others, it is shocking for most of the people :D) but I think first of all, our experiences depend on our own mentality and attitude.
    I have heard expats in my own country speaking about exactly the same issues that the author mentions. I think these things are general things that expats experience if they do not fully commit themselves for integrating themselves into the given society as long as they are there.
    I also realized that the foreigners around me who do not do anything for integrating themselves, are also all the time complaining about Belgians, waiting passively on that the locals befriend them.

  4. Comment by bastien

    bastien April 10, 2014 at 21:13

    Being Belgian and Expat myself, I have to say it has nothing to do with where you go. I live in Amsterdam and have nearly no Dutch firends, I lived in England and have no British friends, only expats… People around just like to stay with their own friends from their own country.Ony if you experience what it is to live in another country you will open yourself to others coming in yours.

    • Comment by Lieve de Kok

      Lieve de Kok April 18, 2014 at 22:19

      I was an expat for many years and I have German friends in Germany, French friends in France, and the same goes for Switzerland, Spain and Turkey. But…. only one Belgian friend. Maybe this says something about the Belgian’s abilities to socialize with foreign people?

  5. Comment by Dorothy Dalton

    Dorothy Dalton April 10, 2014 at 21:41

    Hi – I can only speak from personal experience. I have found Belgians to be hospitable and welcoming and have many Belgian friends. There is a tendency for expats to silo themselves and as one commentator mentioned they need to get out, learn one of the languages and try to reach out and integrate.

  6. Comment by Dulce Díaz

    Dulce Díaz April 10, 2014 at 21:44

    Come on!! Paola has no idea of what a Belgian is!!! One of my best friends is Belgian, as her fámily, and I was in Belgium for some days and everybody was kind and respectful. That thing about the comfort zone, issues with the commitments, and that they are hard to read do not exist. Anybody could expect to live in another country just in the same way, with all the stuffs, traditions and people’s ways to be of his/her own country.
    Please, when you write about the people of a country or place that is not yours, do not generalize!!!

    • Comment by Paola

      Paola April 11, 2014 at 17:21

      Dulce, I’m curious…. How did you meet your Belgian friend? Have you lived in Belgium? I ask because from your comment it seems you were here for only a few days. In any case, your comment reinforces something I wrote in the article which is a lot of Belgians are kind, warm, and just generally great friends. The problem for some expats is they don’t seem to get this to stage because of lack of awareness of certain cultural traits.
      But maybe, you just have the magic answer we’ve all been waiting for, in that case, please do share because a lot of people here are going to love it!

  7. Comment by Chris

    Chris April 10, 2014 at 21:54


    I usually never comment. I just do not like it so much. But as a Belgian I felt really saddened by what is written here, and thrown on the web for the whole world to see this awful generalization of my people. I felt like reading an article on dogs or something like that.

    I do not recognize myself or any of my friends on any of your 3 points. I live in Mexico (comfort zone?), made amazing friends in every places I have been, Belgium or other and still keep a contact with as much as possible (commitment?).

    I usually meet people from everywhere telling me that Belgian people are quite warm, welcoming, they like to party, … I especially heard that from Latin American people, which told me that we Belgians were the people they felt the closest to here in Europe. But everyone have different experiences!

    Yes, Belgium is cold, taxes are high, some people complaint, some are colder than others, but experience and observation show that there are good, bad, cold, warm, sick, happy, xenophobic, kind, beautiful, peaceful, violent, sharing people all around the world, in every country, and that we cannot make hazardous generalizations (and publish them) without hurting people and and make a fool out of ourselves.

    A little message to all the Belgian people here: being far from my country make me feel more Belgian (I am from the south but always felt Belgian). I do not want to come back for the moment, I love the sun and the people of Mexico and, well, just be abroad and travel and work in other places, but I love my country and my strange Flemish/Wallonian culture. And I cannot wait to come back this summer (for the amazing Werchter Line Up).

    See ya!

    • Comment by sélim

      sélim April 12, 2014 at 13:06

      Could’nt agree more ! As a belgian from the south side as well, that lived for one year in spain 😉

    • Comment by Astrid

      Astrid April 12, 2014 at 17:24

      Well said Chris :) ! I’m Belgian too and I find it hard to believe that these three statements sum up the main characteristics of a Belgian. I love meeting new people, getting to know their languages and cultural backgrounds, share stories etc. I was an Erasmus student in Spain myself and I have always received a different response from foreigners than these three descriptions above. Even after 6 years, my foreign friends and I are very very close. When you come to mention it, a Belgian might be one of the few who actually keep in touch with foreign friends for years.

      When it comes to meeting Belgians, it’s just a matter of finding the right people who are open-minded. Yes, some can be reserved, but there is an equal amount that enjoys new encounters, spontaneous get-togethers and getting to know new people :) .

    • Comment by Anne

      Anne April 13, 2014 at 12:09

      I am a Belgian living in Belgium and I do recognise all 3 things.
      If you have no friends while you are studying, moving to another city when you start working and are not the typical party person, than it is really difficult to get ‘best friends’.
      It’s very easy to meet nice people who will help you with tiny things, at work people will be friendly.
      But finding a new circle of close fiends of finding people to ‘have dinner with that week’ is hardly easy.

      So in general it’s completely true. Last year I invited our neighbours (the man) over for dinner. They are from Spain and Poland and I knew that we had at least one thing in common: we like to cook.
      They had not responded to my invitation, but on the other hand we had not had the change to really see each other again while passing in the hallway.
      Last month I saw them again (the woman) and asked why they never responded. They taught they must have misunderstood me, just because it is so uncommon for Belgians to open up.

  8. Comment by Lore

    Lore April 10, 2014 at 21:57

    Hi Paola,

    I so agree in what you wrote and so did some of the belgians I know and specially the foreigners I know. For me its very weird and hard to believe that after 5 years in Belgium I have no belgian friends (only my boyfriend who is flemish) and I even recognize him in all those things. Im spanish and, in general, we are much more open an social so its hard for me to undertand this scheduled friendships…Anyway, thank you for not making me feel like a weirdo… 😉

    • Comment by Herm

      Herm April 14, 2014 at 19:13

      What Paola writes is a genuine and also true. Those Belgians here who get defensive (we ARE warm and friendly and blah blah blah) miss the point entirely. They get touchy over the honest expression of an experience, which they interpret as an implicit insult. How petty and childish. I, as a Belgian, experienced Paola is right, and Lore as well. After moving to Antwerp I found it harder to get to know people here in four months than in my favourite city Madrid in four days. I speak Spanish fluently, granted, but there is no denying that the Spanish are much more easy going, less suspicious towards ‘strangers’ happy and open minded. I miss that Southern attitude here.

  9. Comment by BB

    BB April 10, 2014 at 22:03

    I really dont agree with you…. I rather would like to know where you from…. maybe we can be a little reserved but this is who we are and usually won’t take long before we get out of our shell…. I really dont know who you have met and what kind of behavior you must have had with a Belgians not to be accepted or welcomed spontaneously into their place….. cause believe food and drink they share and a good night out is mostly appreciated but once more with the right one…. better little friends but good friends than plenty and fake… we are modest people…. and well my friends are not people I meet everyday not even every week… sometimes will be months maybe before I meet them again but you know what I dont need to see them every day to know they are there and will always be. for a good time or for any other reasons….

    • Comment by Gisa

      Gisa April 13, 2014 at 05:02

      You basically started by saying you really don’t agree… Then you went on and confirmed that every point she mentioned does apply to you!

    • Comment by Gisa

      Gisa April 14, 2014 at 12:22

      So… basicaly you started by saying you don’t agree… And then you went on and confirmed every point she made by saying it applies to you!

  10. Comment by Mark

    Mark April 10, 2014 at 22:17

    Let’s cut to the chase. without a doubt,the Limburg folks are just the best. Very open,free-minded en pretty much straightforward. As an immigrant myself,i can attest to the fact that Limburg is the best part of Belgium i’ve experienced so far. i live in Kempen though and they’re largely reserved and closed.

  11. Comment by Chez

    Chez April 10, 2014 at 23:33

    I must say I share the same experiences as Paola and have also struggled to understand why this is the case. I just realised that I just had to accept the situation and (being the outsider), I need to put more effort and lessen my expectations. (All of us know that we click with some people and some not.) Most important of all, I needed to give it time –time to speak the language well enough so I could laugh at their jokes and understand all the expressions and nuances as well as time to have common experiences which is usually the basis of many friendships.

  12. Comment by geridene

    geridene April 11, 2014 at 00:15

    I thought this article was extremely fair and balanced. I have lived as a foreigner in Belgium for 25 years and agree entirely with what Paola has said. Go girl. You’re quite good.

    • Comment by Paola

      Paola April 11, 2014 at 17:23

      Well, thank you! I’m blushing a little bit right now!

  13. Comment by Erika

    Erika April 11, 2014 at 09:01

    Hi Paola

    BELGIANS ARE KIND AND CARING!! I am an expat and although I have only been in Belgium for a very small period of time, I cannot associate with what you are saying at all. We live in a small community, our daughter goes to a local school, and we have been overwhelmed with the reception we have received in Belgium. Our neighbours keep close contact to make sure we know of any community events happening. Shortly after moving into our rental home our neighbours arrived with gifts of fresh fruit and vegetables, toys for our daughter, flowers for our home………When they see us working in the garden, they pop in and bring us a drink to share with them, and even weed alongside us whilst chatting. They invited us for supper and lunch and they accept our invitations. We have been introduced to our ‘neighbours- 5 km away’, by the neighbours. We have met other expats who have also experienced this welcoming attitude from Belgians. We have not only experienced this amongst the people in our community, but also at the local tennis club and the church in Brussels. I feel that I have found some ‘family’ in Belgium, and this had made our move to a foreign country, so much easier. I am very grateful for these amazing, warm and generous people we have had the privilege to befriend. We would not have had the same reception if we moved into a new neighbourhood in our own country.

    I think one of the biggest issues stopping expats from really getting to know Belgians is the language barrier. It is so much easier to communicate on a much more meaningful level in your own language. Admittedly our entry to Belgium had been cushioned by the fact that we speak a language very similar to Dutch and therefore do not struggle too much with understanding and communicating. Once the people in Flanders can get past our accent, sometimes foreign vocabulary and sentence construction, we have meaningful conversations even standing in a shopping line! Our Dutch will improve, as we keep on practising, and we are also learning to speak French, and we make a concerted effort to spend time in Wallonie to force us to practise our french. Again, we have found the same friendly attitude in the french speaking part of Belgium. Even with my extremely broken french and limited vocabulary we have managed to make friends. I have found that most Belgians we have met, are interested in talking to you and getting to know you.

    If you are not making friends in Belgium with Belgians then maybe its time to evaluate whether you are not perhaps playing the expat game? Keeping yourself occupied with mainly expat culture and activities, and not integrating into the community? We are learning to speak both French and Dutch and make an effort NOT to mix too much with expats, although we have made some great expats friends also. I love Belgium, I treasure the friends I have made, and the time and effort they had made to get to know us, and to make us feel welcome. We had been told, even by Belgians, that Belgians are not very friendly – I cannot agree less with that statement. Our personal experience have shown us people with a keen sense of humour, a generous spirit and open to receiving ‘strangers’ who make an effort to integrate!

  14. Comment by Ikzelf

    Ikzelf April 11, 2014 at 09:12

    Being Flemish myself I can relate to the story Paola put down. I’ve never met more people that are afraid of EVERYTHING and EVERYONE!! if it is strange, unknown then it is BAD… in direct contrast-> Flemish people do however have THE best common sense available, they are excellent in looking for flaws in something!! however they really lack balls to take action, the Dutch (Netherland) are different in that aspect of life even the Swedish (Nordic) people. So to summarize; Belgian friendship is very rare, very complex (enormous backtalk), very the same (the group rarely changes players) and very very boring (because they lack sense of action/adventure). In Belgium we often relate to common sense as ‘Having a good FARMER sense’ I think that really says it all, sums up the whole story. As an employer however I would hurry to invest in Belgium because their workforce is soooooo ‘Follow the leader’, they just love I mean really love to please their direct leaders. for example when you give them more work they will say ‘ok, I will do this’ inside they will be angry as hell but they will deliver a great finished product on time :). Belgians you gotta love em….

  15. Comment by Thijs

    Thijs April 11, 2014 at 09:19

    Hy Paola,

    I think you’re post hits a nucleus of truth, that’s why so many people seem a bit offended. You’ve only forgot to add one thing: Once you’ve succeeded on making friends with a Belgian person, once you’ve cracked the shell, you will find a warm, caring, generous and hospitable hell of a friend.


  16. Comment by Jay-P Lee

    Jay-P Lee April 11, 2014 at 11:17

    A lot of this is true while at the same time a very narrow view from an expat author in general.
    And as an expat myself in Hong Kong I have no need at all to befriend anyone just for the reason of… whatever. Oh, and indeed it might help to speak the local lingos. Flemish, French and German in Belgium. Cantonese, Mandarin and English in Hong Kong.
    Try it, it might help to get out of the expat cocoon.

  17. Comment by Andres

    Andres April 11, 2014 at 11:49

    Nice review of some typical Belgian (or at least Flemish) features :)
    I, however, think you must include another reason that might apply to a lot of expats (particularly in Flanders): “You have not made any effort to learn the language.”
    As much as Belgians in general speak a great English, that is not enough reason for them to switch their language, while being in their own country because someone in the group does not understand.
    As an expat myself, I struggled with this for quite a while. However as soon as I started using Flemish (even a poor very limited version of it), my network of belgian friends grew exponentially.

  18. Comment by Arky

    Arky April 11, 2014 at 13:55

    Hi Paula,

    I’m a 24-year old belgian guy who has lived in different parts of the country. What you’re describing is not strange to most belgians, as a matter of fact I recently had a discussion with one of my friends, talking about this very same subject and how we should not let that affect who we are and how we see ourselves. There is certainly a core of truth in what you’re saying, but the same goes for some of the reactions here stating that an expat should go the extra mile as well.
    I live near and work in Zaventem for the moment and get confronted on a regular basis with expats who often strike me as uninterested and distant themselves.

    For example, we are situated next to a branch of Toyota, where a lot of japanase expats work. It’s next to impossible to make contact with them and when you do, they hurry to end the conversation. Now, I could generalize this and say that the japanase are not interested in western culture or look down on us etc,…but that would be a load of ****. So are some of your generalizations, but as I said in the beginning, there is some truth to be found in them nonetheless.

    I’m not going to start a demographic analysis, trying to find the root cause of our domesticated mindset, but what I am remarking is that my generation (and let’s hope, by expansion, the next generations) is a lot less home-bound and I actually have to search profoundly if I need to think off a friend of mine who is as modest as the average belgian is described. Perhaps a coincidence, but they’re certainly not too shy to compliment themselves on accomplishments they’ve made.

    Concerning the openness, though, I entirely agree. We are a reserved people and in general people frown upon flamboyancy, open-heartedness and spontaneous conversation. This is from personal experience: I’m a very open guy, I love nothing more than to share a laugh with a perfect stranger. This, however, is an experience I mostly have with expats, tourists or generally people from non-belgian origin. While you see natives thinking: ‘My god, can’t that guy just act normal. This is not how you are supposed to behave.’
    The good thing about them though: they won’t say it to your face.
    But the fact that this is indeed they way people look to spontaneousness, holds back those who would like to be more open. I guess.

    Because, Paula, we hate to be judged, we fear it even. That’s why you have a few less polite comments here. We’re almost never proud, unless when criticized.

    Anyway, I’m even proud you took the time and effort to write about our little country! You gave me some fruit for reflection, which is always welcome. And for that, my dear, I thank you.


    P.s.: I don’t know your age, but maybe you could look for contact with people aged between 21 and 35. This generation grew up with the internet and is remarkably more open-minded! 😉

  19. Comment by Molly S.

    Molly S. April 11, 2014 at 13:55

    Nice article and interesting to read how you perceive my country. It is funny, as a Belgian living near Berlin, I feel I made the similar experiences as you made in my home country.

    First of all I think it is also very difficult to find German friends or it takes a really long time. Don´t get me wrong, I do have very good German friends but I took quite a while.

    For me the Germans have their very steady small circles of friends and it is difficult to get into it. I notice this even with my daughter who was born here and who continues to frequent her own small circle of friends and I always wonder why she does not have other nationalities among her friends. Berlin is so international and there are some many young people living here now from Spain, France, Canada etc.

    For me, when my children were younger it was also hard to get in touch with other German parents. If I had to collect the children at a German family, I never came further than their doorstep, at most of them at least. I thought, in Belgium they would at least ask if you want a coffee and have some small talk.

    I live in a house with only five apartments. But if you think , let me see, that after 15 years, we are close, then you are wrong. We will say hello when we meet be coincidence on our parking lot and that is all. And it is not that we did not try in the beginning. Anyway, I have the feeling that for them it is quite normal to behave this way and I don´t thing they have something against us. It is just like this.

    In most of the shops, they will not recognize you, even if you are a frequent customer. There is this grocery shop in my neighborhood for instance. I go there since ten years every week because they have good products but no chatting in the shop and not just one sign that they recognize me and this bothers me sometimes but I got used to it somehow. Berlin can be very anonymously.
    But I admit that Berlin is changing and is already more friendly than it was 15 years ago.

    In Berlin it is also very unusual to start a conversation with a complete stranger, like it is done in New York for instance. If you attempt to chat, you feel immediately that they do not feel comfortable with it.

    As for the Germans I am befriended with, I like them very much, but I would never ring at their door without making an appointment. That is just not how its done. It is really funny to read how you see the Belgians, because I always thought thought that we are a bit more spontaneous than the Germans:)

    I like to live in Germany and Berlin is one of the greatest cities to live in but it may be hard at the beginning to find German friends and your first friends will probably be other foreigners.
    But once you have your German friends, you will have them for life. Just take your time.

    As for the Belgians, I think you have all sorts of them. Those who live still under the bell tower of their church and hardly left their place of birth and than the other ones that are eager to meet new people and interested in other cultures. I think I belong to the second category.

    And is it not difficult to make friends in other European countries as well ? Countries like Italy or Spain or Greece where the sense of familia is so important. Do you have to be married to one of them to get friends or is it easier there ?

  20. Comment by Gerrit

    Gerrit April 11, 2014 at 14:13

    I am Belgian, living in Brussels, but have lived 8 years abroad shattered around 6 countries (except Turkey, all of them were EU countries though, so the only true different culture I experienced was Turkey).

    It is with some shame that I can only say the author of this article is spot on. I think we Belgians are a bit “family people” (I am quite reclusive myself, I speak in general and not about myself now) : we love spending time at home with family, visit friends, … but we live in a tiny cocoon, like a very small own enclave that contains only that select few people that we care about.

    One of the biggest frustrations I have is that I really believe everyone has something interesting to say, everyone!! but only few want to listen. We don’t listen to each other anymore, because we’re always in a rush, hurried … But still, every person has an own story to tell. I think if we would make more time to listen to each other’s stories, we could make so many new friends we’d otherwise just have passed by. If only we would listen to each other…

    And I do think, Belgians are not the best example when it comes to listening to each other. In Turkey, I saw people after their job ended for the day, gather at the town square, take their family to the park, or just enjoy a tea house chat with either friends or with people they’ve just met. They’re very social people, with a lot of solidarity. A lot of Turkish people seemed to apply the rule “a stranger is a friend I have yet to meet”. But they do listen to each other’s stories. I really miss that in Belgium, it’s something you realise a lot when you live abroad and then return to your own country. Then you realise you’re glad you’re back in some ways, but you also realise you’re missing certain things from the countries you’ve been in. I wish the Belgians were more open, a bit “more Turkish” :)

    (PS: probably many countries can be said the same of as about Turkey, but Turkey’s the only country I lived in myself where I experienced such solidarity amongst people.)

    Also, I do think a lot of Belgians are a bit conservative, something which bothers me too even though I’m Belgian myself, but I get a lot of staring just for the way I dress. This type of conservative thinking may disencourage Belgians to reach out to people from different backgrounds. I wish it were different, but I can only fully agree with the article.

  21. Comment by Heli

    Heli April 11, 2014 at 17:12

    What strikes me about these kind of discussions, is the fact that expats expect the local people to welcome them with arms open wide, when actually it’s us, “the foreigners” who have come to live here. Most deffinitely there are difficulties to intergrate, but no more than there would be in any other country. I am from Estonia and trust me, you’d have an even harder time there!
    The bottom line is, stop complaining about the cultural differences and instead try to understand them and then just stick to the people who you do find common ground with. In the end, if you never want to get confronted with cultural differences or adapt to a different environment – don’t leave your home.

  22. Comment by Liebelle

    Liebelle April 11, 2014 at 22:32

    I don’t think anyone here should criticize another simply because he/she is sharing his/her experiences as these experiences are subjective not objective, i.e what I might enjoy you might hate or what I find endearing you may find irritating.

    I can’t say I 100% agree with Paola, however, she is entitled to her opinion.

    I’ve lived in Belgium for almost 5 years and really haven’t made any Flemish friends and I am married to a Flemish man. I am fluent in Dutch and now I am learning French. I volunteer several days a week for an organization. I consider myself very open-minded and very integrated, so language and adapting to cultural differences isn’t any issue on my part.

    I will say some are friendly and polite, but that’s where it stops. I am not sure if it has anything to do with my color and/or the fact I am American as many of them whom I’ve met believe some stereotypes about Americans and people of color. It can be frustrating at times especially when you don’t know exactly what the problem is.

    I do hope one day I can say I finally found a Flemish friend; two people who see each other as human beings and embrace and accept all the similarities and well as the differences with a smile.

    My two humble cents.

  23. Comment by Luke

    Luke April 12, 2014 at 03:54

    As a Belgian expat myself, I think your views hold some truth, for the average Belgian, especially about the Comfort Zone.

    Part of the issue is that there are relatively few positive (perceived) examples of foreigners/immigrants in Belgium. Many come from poor social background and live on benefits, attracted by the particularly generous welfare system. Others are Eurocrats, CEOs of multinationals, etc. who pay no or relatively few taxes and hence contribute not much either. The matching stereotype of hardworking, conservative, middle-class, modest, soft-spoken expat is therefore hard to find. Now, since Belgians strongly value a deep connection with close their entourage, it will clearly not be easy for any foreigner to get into the inner circle because. All this in addition to the standard issue of not having grown up with the same culture, subtle habits, humour, values, sensitivities, etc. The entry is easy, but the next level of a meaningful friendship is a lot harder to reach.

    The added factor is that Belgium suffers from the Small Country syndrome, fearing cultural invasion and erosion on one side (historically rooted), while on the other hand believing that they are soooooo much better than most other countries — an attitude which also appears in Switzerland, Denmark, etc. This is not conducive for approaching foreigners with an open mind.

    Perhaps the reality is that those who like to mingle with other cultures have already left the country, and those staying behind are not really so curious or interested in reaching out at a sustained level.

    Intellectual (self-)development is also highly regarded in Belgium. This requires a fair amount of retreat (isolation?) for reading, study, quiet contemplation, etc. Perhaps the argument can be turned around by saying that Belgians might think that e.g. Hispanics are too committed to their ‘agenda’ of frequent socializing, partying, etc., rather than self-development? Maybe.

    Anyway, thank you for sharing your experiences. It helps us all seeing ourselves and our background in more perspective and, hopefully, become more balanced citizens.

  24. Comment by ikke

    ikke April 12, 2014 at 10:20

    I’m a belgian but live in an very international social enviroment in belgium and i can see why a lot of forreigner think this but it’s an interpretation from your point of view.

    Belgians are a bit conservative and afraid of everything they don’t know. So they don’t want to explore the rest of the world, they rather stay in their village, with what they know, and everything that does not fit in that is suspicious till proven otherwise.

    If you force your way in to their world, they can get very open and warm, but first you need to get their trust. That is a difficult task, but not impossible. It start with learning the local language, culture and habbits. Then you go to local events (can be anything) and cooperate in a non invasive way and show that you are willing to take part in their life. You don’t necesairly has to take their culture as yours, but you need to know it, and know how to deal with it and fit yourself in it in a way they like it.

    Central and certain west africans and far east-asians are very good in this, and get almost no racism here. They got very fast accepted as a belgian (even if they don’t have the belgian nationality) and often have a lot of belgian friends if they want this. North africans are very bad in this matters, and that is why they got so much racsim to deal with…

  25. Comment by x5

    x5 April 12, 2014 at 11:17

    I agree in most of the things you say. I have been living here for four years already. I am married to a Belgian. (He is from Flanders so, I don’t know anything from the rest of the country.) I speak the language, I study at the university and had worked everywhere. I have done muy best to fit in. But, there is no place for me here. Many Belgians are cruel when you are looking for a job. They say that you Flemish is not good enough. They say that your accent is awful and they disrespect you when they can.
    Belgians are so close. In four years I have made many friends from different countries inclusive Belgians. But my husband hasn’t many friends. The friends he has are from his time in primary school or high school. He has been living in this city for more than 10 years and he has no friends from here. He studied 7 years in the university and he doesn’t know anybody from there either. When we want to meet his friends we have to go back to his village because none of his friends live here. He is the only one living in another city and that is because of me!

  26. Comment by spiffy

    spiffy April 12, 2014 at 11:26

    Married to a Flemish man and living in Switzerland, I have visited my husband’s hometown, Antwerp, regularly over the past 11 years. My personal – and I emphasize ‘personal’ – experience with Antwerpians has been quite traumatic. As a well-travelled, educated Asian diplomat’s daughter, I was disappointed to come across a highly conservative, closed-minded, self-righteous, judgmental and petty community. I was also appalled to note the uncomfortable, somewhat disdainful interaction between the French-speakers and the Flemish. It may be true that the country’s history has made Belgians suspicious towards outsiders and has also indirectly caused them to “love their comfort zone and the comforts of sameness”. And although there is intrinsically nothing wrong with this choice of lifestyle, perhaps if some of the more judgmental ones made the effort to open up their minds and hearts a bit, they might just discover another universe that would make them happier and more well-rounded human beings. This said, I also have positive observations about Belgians: my favorite teacher in my New England boarding school was a wonderful, wise, open-minded and warmhearted (Brussels-bred) Belgian. Also, the Belgian section of Medecins sans Frontieres was one of the first rescue teams onsite after typhoon Haiyan hit the Philippines last year; some of the best, innovative designers in the world are Belgians – and yes, I love my husband and Belgian chocolates :)

  27. Comment by Soetkin

    Soetkin April 12, 2014 at 14:00

    I have been living in Belgium for the lasty 15 years! basically the half of my life! so I will say, some points are some how true, other are not!
    in my personal case I will say!

    Belgian are nice and friendly, to party, to see each other sometimes, It will take time to integrate you.

    They can be afraid of the “outsiders”.

    They meet in bars, it will take years months before, you’re invited! Unless you met one of them outside of Belgium, maybe during the vacation! and if you meet an belgian in Belgium, it will be different than meet one, out of Belgium!

    And girls, before a guy tells you , he likes you it will take time, I’m afraid you will need to take the initiative or wait when he’s really drunk, or nothing probably will happen!

    When you make brlgian friends, make sure, which interest are behind!
    Belgian make friends, to go party, for business connection, for knitting. Don’t worry if you’re not invited to the wedding!

  28. Comment by Wim

    Wim April 12, 2014 at 14:57

    For me, as a Belgian, this is an interesting article. I didn’t even know that having an agenda to schedule our life is typical for our culture :-)

    But generally some thing:s are true
    – about the comfort zone: I already experienced that even abroad Belgian people stick together. Certainly the part I come from, West-Vlaanderen, have that attitude. When they go to study in Gent it’s like they search where the other people from West-Vlaanderen are and just stick together.
    – about making friends: personally I think that you first have to break through the ‘armour’ of Belgians before you will learn to know them really. Many people dislike people who consider other people as their friends from the first time they meet each other. We prefer a small bunch of true friends we can count on, and some people around we meet regularly (at a football match e.g.). So it may be hard to get to that point. And at some point this also has to do with the comfort zone.

    But, as already said above: these things differ from people to people, some are very social and open for other cultures, while others are more reserved. But in geral I have to agree that Southern European people are more open and social than Belgian people.

    And it’s true we like that people try to integrate, learn our language, and respect and understand our culture. If you do that – or at least try dping it – you already covered a big part of the way having a Belgian as friend.

  29. Comment by Inez

    Inez April 12, 2014 at 15:10

    Great article, there is def some truth in it but I might want to point out some things. These so called problems are the direct consequence of not speaking the language. I have met expats before and although they try to speak the language in the beginning, they give up really easy. We will be really happy that you try and very patient. I do understand that it is easy to switch to English because Dutch or French isn’t the easiest language to speak. But opening up to someone who doesn’t understand you or doesn’t want to make the effort to do so, is not too conveniant. This makes it hard to get in the inner circle, to read someone and to keep a genuine friendship in my opinion :)

  30. Comment by Greg

    Greg April 13, 2014 at 02:02

    I lived in Italy,got married there,learned the language, made efforts to make friends and trust me you talk about comfort zone…Go to Italy and you’ll see what that means…
    It was really hard to blend in, i think i was finally getting there when we left to come to live in Australia.
    Australia is so different of everything else, it is so easy to make Australian friends as they are very open minded people and they just want to have a good time!!!
    I have been trying to keep in touch with some Brazilians people i have met here…Again talk about the comfort zone…Every party we are invited we are the only non brazilian people they speak portuguese the all evening…
    Try asian people as well…
    I think you might have had bad experiences but please don’t say things like this about my people…
    I do have a lot of english friends over here as well and they all say the same about belgian:always up for a good night out and that’s true, that’s who we are…

  31. Comment by Eric

    Eric April 13, 2014 at 10:18

    As a Flemish Belgian, I have lived and worked extensively in over 2 dozen countries on all continents, so I dare say that I write from half a life of personal experience and nourished by countless conversations regarding living in a foreign culture. The traits of a people described in this article I find to some extent, sometimes greater, sometimes smaller, in all of the people I have lived amongst.

    Generalizations are a way of explaining and dealing with the world around you. They also form a safety net for whoever is doing the generalizing. I feel that however correct they may seem, they are at the same time also inherently wrong. “3 reasons you don’t have many Belgian friends” spread out over near 11 million people. No need to say more. I can throw several handfulls of generalities on the table to describe many nationalities, but unfortunately they most often only help to muddle relationships and put up barriers.

    Do you want a recipe for success as a foreigner in another country? Respect for people and their culture, show genuine interest, speak the language as well as you can, stop thinking from and comparing with your own culture, spend time, be patient, be positive and smile a lot! Friends are everywhere, but you have to be one first.

  32. Comment by Herman

    Herman April 13, 2014 at 11:04

    I don’t think people in Germany, France or even Britain are all that different. It’s more a European thing I guess and the further you go south, people tend to be more open, go north and the culture runs parallel to the climate. And then there’s the minority complex of being such a small country, always struggling to have a voice in the bigger scheme of all kinds of leagues of nations. Politicians constantly dividing the people up doesn’t help either. So in the end, you rely on what you know and hold dear. That said, you are welcome in my tiny, close-knit inner circle, and we’ll have a blast! :)

  33. Comment by Someone

    Someone April 13, 2014 at 13:24

    There are differences within Belgium though. What I read here mostly applies to Flanders, and there is quite some variety within Flanders too. The French speakers are in my experience easier to get acquainted with. But even they are, indeed, less warm-hearted than the neighbouring countries.

    [Oh, which experience do I have? Well, I’m a Belgian expat who lived in 10+ different cities all over Belgium, in Delft (NL), Paris (F) and – currently – in Berlin (D)]

  34. Comment by Jane

    Jane April 14, 2014 at 11:12

    Being a Belgian myself, I do think there is some truth to what you are saying although you did not put things well in perspective. As always, there are two sides of a story. Yes, Belgians are indeed less outspoken and a bit more closed off, not only to foreigners but to every one in general. However, I am working in a university context so I meet a huge number of foreigners every year. And I honestly have to say that only a limited few take the effort to get to know the people and the culture of the country they visit. I have tried very hard to invite those people to local student parties, events, lunches,…all in English! Unfortunately, most people do not like these types of events. This can be for a number of reasons, maybe we Belgians are indeed hard to relate to. So instead of them joining me, I went with them to the events they liked, usually for international students or researchers or just parties at their home. And although I was welcomed with open arms, each time I arrived, I stopped going to these events. Why, because after the arrival welcome, people again formed their original groups which was Portuguese with Portuguese, Spanish with Spanish, Polish with Polish all talking in their own language, which I did not understand at all and although I tried started conversations in English, people always revert back to their original language. And this is not only a problem in Belgium, I lived for a long time in the US and I mixed more with Americans than with other expats. Why? Because the expats were again all grouped according to their language/nation and on the parties of my Italian friends, people only spoke Italian.,.. So while I understand how great it is to be able to talk in your own language away from home, please also understand how this affects other people especially the people of the country you are visiting. Why should they make the effort if you are not making it? Again, this is from my point of view as both a local and a person who has been an expat and it definitely cannot be generalized for all expats or foreigners just like the opinion posted by Paola definitely does not extent to all Belgians.

  35. Comment by Filip Van Houte

    Filip Van Houte April 14, 2014 at 12:06

    Amazing article and I am glad someone finally posted it. I am from Belgium myself and even for me it’s very difficult to make (new) friends. Everyone is so busy organizing and having shedules that they just don’t meet. Everything has to be planned, and belgians wanna be in their comfort zone with the familiar.

    I try to meet friends and meet new people, but it’s so hard to get them together to have a drink or do stuff … that I basically gave up.That’s why I travel a lot and invite couchsurfers to my place, that way we can still share experiences.

    It’s so hard to create bonds and friendships in Belgium. … It’s really such a shame, becauwe have a lot to offer and a lot of social places to meet … Oh well, this is partly one of the big reasons why I am gonna to move out of Belgium.

    Thanks for writing this article Paolo

  36. Comment by Lien

    Lien April 14, 2014 at 14:26

    Hi, I read this article a week ago and posted it to my friend’s Facebook wall… See, he is an expat, I am a Belgian. It seemed pretty funny at the time.
    But the more I thought about it, the more I realized I really wanted to reply to this, because I feel this is more than anything a generalization and a point of view that is even a bit hurtful.
    I’m Belgian. And yes, I have many foreign friends, as do a lot of my (Belgian) friends.
    When met my expat friend, it seemed that, indeed, he did not have a wide range of Belgian friends. I asked him why. He found it hard to mix.
    Now, I can truly understand that. We are a reserved people, we like to build relationships from a basis of trust, we are not super enthusiastic about everything. Yet we are genuine. We do get enthusiastic about other things than mere dissatisfactions in life. And it is a fact that when you go to bars you don’t easily mix and mingle with everyone at the bar. That is something you will find in many other northern countries.
    But that doesn’t mean it is impossible. As an outgoing person myself I have (small)talked at many occasions with complete strangers. Small talking with a stranger doesn’t make him or her my friend. But it might become the start of a frienship.
    What I did realize, when I was asked to hang out with my friend’s expat group, was the fact that they are very closed as a group.
    They did not seem interested in my country or my city at all.
    Some were even somewhat rude about how they perceived my country. And what struck me the most was that these were ones that did lacked knowledge and interest in my country and had not even taken an effort to really talk to Belgian people. None of them, not even after living here for 5 years could speak even one phrase of Dutch nor would they want to try.
    I think some expats lack Belgian friends because of how they act towards Belgians.
    We are reserved, but proud. We do not lack a sense of humour and we are not as open and direct as Dutch people. We will not tell you in your face you are being rude. I didn’t towards those expats that I found rude. But I never went out with them again.
    That’s how it works here. We find it impolite to tell people we don’t like them. It’s unnecessary. Me not liking you doesn’t imply you are not a nice person, you are just not my kind of person. We won’t get personal and judgemental, we will just not them again.
    Because, yes, our time is precious. My time is precious and I like to spend it with the people that I find worth my time.

    My expat friend is different than the people in that group. He is interested in my country, he likes to know what Belgians are like. It has been a bit difficult, but he has more and more Belgian friends.

    If you don’t take the effort, we won’t either. Friends are very important to us, but we believe that is a title you deserve. Not one I throw around for everybody you meet and have a laugh with.

    If you want to really know us, break away from your own comfort zone, surrounded by other expats.
    Try to say something in our language, how small it might be. Yes, we can all speak English and yes, we don’t really mind speaking other languages, but maybe consider that if you are not just visiting a country, but living there, trying to get to know what it’s all about, is also a language experience.
    And it is also an experience of getting to know what we are really about. We are more than a 3 point article written by someone who just passed by here.

    Well… I’m glad I got that off my chest.
    See: we can say what we think after all. Sometimes it just takes us some time to voice our opinion.

  37. Comment by E_Nora

    E_Nora April 14, 2014 at 18:10

    Ciao Paola, as an expat i feel this article could ring true for everybody living abroad for a significant amount of time, not only in Belgium… And especially those living in busy and fast cities as Brussels! I think that this, added to the difficult task of finding a common ground with the locals (with fellow expats it’s a lot easier, being in the same situation of newcomers), could be what characterizes most the Brussels expat experience maybe… I’ve lived in Paris for a couple of years, going to university there, working with french people, hanging out with french as well as international friends. I speak a fairly good french (i work for a french company even now) so I thought, going to France, that most of the job was behind me. What I discovered is that, as everybody is saying, and especially french people for other parts of France, Parisian are quite difficult to approach, especially if they haven’t been abroad themselves. It took me time to distinguish the stereotype from the reality : Paris is an overcrowded city, with a huge mass of foreign students and non-parisians, most of which are there only temporarily. You can make friends with locals, but you must find a common ground before, and that’s not easy, people have to make a space for you in their life (the hard truth). This could also be true in my native Bologna : it is quite agreed that students from other cities and people from Bologna don’t mingle. And of course this is only the partial truth. Even in a small village in souther Italy, where I’ve worked as seasonal for two summers, locals don’t trust tourists and seasonal workers that much, and you can definitely hang out with fellow seasonal workers only, if you don’t open up a bit. The difference, maybe, is that here people would make you notice that you’re being shy! But again, it’s a tiny little place! There is a strong possibility for me to move to Belgium within the year, so this article made me tremble a bit. What I’ll do, should that be the case, is learning from what I already experienced : get to know the local language (so, dutch), try to become a part of the community life (volunteering, here I come), make project for the long run, get out of my comfort zone.

  38. Comment by Elle

    Elle April 14, 2014 at 20:22

    I honestly do not agree with most of the things you are saying. First, substitute Belgian by most of other nations and most likely 90% of the foreigners living there will agree with you. Second, I came in contact with a lot of international people and from that large group I only have a few close friends left, not because I am closed off or something but because every time I meet up with the majority of them, there are often other international people there too. This is not a problem until they start talking amongst themselves in their own language (spanish, italian, polish,..), almost all the time. This has happened to me and my international friends from small countries, such as belgium, luxemburg, the Netherlands,…. when we have lived in Belgium, USA, France, Australia. So most of us have stopped to going to those type of parties because we were the few people who tried to speak English. From my point of view, people in general tend to prefer to talk to people who speak their language, foreigner or not.
    And also, as to the schedule remark you made, I think you really do not know Belgians well if you say that. The thing is that Belgians take appointments and commitment pretty seriously. That does not mean we are not spontaneous but it means that we cannot drop an appointment whenever some one wants to do anything spontaneous. It just means that for us, it is not respectful to call off an appointment without a valid reason. I often see a lot of international people who I make appointments with go out or study together cancel just because they forgot, they did not feel up to or they wanted to do something else instead. Which is their good right, but if you keep on doing that, I am wondering whether you have any respect for me, because I was there waiting for you all the time. Again, I have heard this from a lot of people, Belgians and not Belgians. I would like to end with: it takes two to tango!

  39. Comment by lmtroch

    lmtroch April 15, 2014 at 11:32

    Wow! Interesting reading! I’ve lived in Belgium for over 10 years and have no Belgian friends. I don’t blame anyone because I’ve hardly every had “good” friends my entire life. Even in my own country! I totally identified with what a lot of people said. Especially, the guy who spoke about flamboyancy, extroverted behavior and that is ME! I’m a short, blond with a mega personality and most people have a problem with that. My command of the language is quite good and I really want to be Belgian. I want to live and stay here. I have FINALLY come to the conclusion that I just have to be a loner because this is who I am. I must always be true to myself because I’m happy being the person who is ALWAYS smiling, singing, laughing and talking to strangers even if it makes them uncomfortable. I realize people may not like this, but it is who I am. Just be yourself and be comfortable with that. I would embrace anyone who would accept this, but even then, making the time to get together would be as easy as spreading cold better on soft bread. Hehehe…

  40. Comment by Geoff Lesire

    Geoff Lesire April 15, 2014 at 15:18

    As a Belgian, I’m sorry to say that this article is one big generalization of prejudices.
    First of all: there are no Belgians. Belgium as a country only exists on the soccer-pitch when and only when the national soccer-team (the Red Devils) is doing well, is it is today.
    There’s the Flemish who live in the north of Belgium. Dutch is their mother-tongue.
    There’s the Walloons who live in the south of Belgium. French is their mother-tongue.
    Then you have a small German community in the east.
    And finally there’s Brussels. It’s a large cosmopolitan city, where almost every language of the world is spoken.
    If you are living in an expat-ghetto in the suburbs of Brussels, chances are that you may never see any “locals” (and therefor never get to meet any of them). Why is that? Because the prices of houses have risen so high in those areas, that “locals” just can’t afford to live there anymore.
    1. Commitment? If you are an expat, chances are that you stay will not last long. I would not invest everything in someone who can just leave in a blink of an eye. Contact would remain superficial.
    2. Comfort zone? If you live in Belgium and you travel over 200 km north, east, south or west you are in another country with other laws, where your college-degree is no longer valid, where chances are high that they speak another language, where another currency was used. The problems with the college-degrees and the currency were fixed in the last decade, but a mentality does not change overnight. And why leave? We have the best education for your kids FOR FREE. We have the best healthcare-system in the world ALMOST FOR FREE. We have the best food and the greatest chefs in the world. I love visiting the rest of the world, but there’s no place like home. Nothing can match up to living in Belgium.
    3. Heard to read? We only open up fully to people we know and trust. So if no-one opens up to you fully, than it’s due to you, than no-one trusts or knows YOU.
    So if you want to make Belgian friends it’s up to YOU to make the first move. And commit yourself to them.

  41. Comment by Olivier L.

    Olivier L. April 15, 2014 at 17:55

    I’m Belgian, I’m a bit puzzled by the reactions of my fellow compatriots. Why don’t you just read what someone else has to say about us? What’s the point to complain? I find her article interesting, just read what she has to say. Is it really such a suprise to discover that we are sometimes distant and a bit cold?

  42. Comment by Davo

    Davo April 15, 2014 at 18:36

    Wow, plenty of interest in this post!

    As well as Belgium, I’ve lived in France, Spain and Germany. In my experience, these countries also all have the slightly conservative tendency to stick close to home/friends/family – but that’s probably normal for all countries, everywhere. It only seems odd to expats, who are of course different by dint of leaving home.

    People are generally more comfortable with – and interested in – their own. At university in England I made zero effort to get to know any foreign students – only realised later, when abroad, that foreigners might appreciate some social opportunities :-(

    And footloose expats can hardly point the finger at locals for lack of interest/commitment! Though by the same token, it’s not fair to criticise expats for finding it easier to socialise with other internationals, cos they’re only doing what locals do: feeling more comfortable with people of similar background/experience.

    Also – at the end of the day, you only have so much time (and energy) for socialising – especially as you get older and have kids, more work commitments, etc. I certainly don’t feel obliged to meet more people of different nationalities just to make my social circle more cosmopolitan – you basically work with what you have and what comes more or less easily.

    In my experience, Belgians might not be as outgoing as e.g. Spaniards (but you could also say that about the English), but they are very easy to live with (if you ignore certain customer-service attitudes – though again, not a problem limited to Belgium). They are decent people, genuine and modest – the latter trait not always associated with certain other northern European nationalities!

    ps don’t agree with the pc view that you can’t make generalisations about whole nations/cultures – it’s only spotting patterns, not damning an entire people – of course there are loads of exceptions.

  43. Comment by Emilie

    Emilie April 16, 2014 at 20:53

    Hola Paola,

    Un articulo muy interessante!
    Estoy estudiante periodismo en Brusselas (pero vivo en Lovania) y me gustaria hacer un reportaje periodistico sobre tu articulo.
    Tiene usted ganas de encontrarme un dia (la proxima semana) por un entrevista corto?
    If so, it would be great!!
    Puedes contactarme en

  44. Comment by Joshua Vantard

    Joshua Vantard April 17, 2014 at 04:26

    Stereotypes are dynamic. Hanging onto unconstructive, negative ones will only self reinforce them. This article is therefore dangerous because it is adding fire to fire. Break the mould and socialise for the benefit of both sides.

    I do not find this article true. I’ve had no issue making meaningful Belgian friendships. 90% of friends here are Belgian yet I am from London. Still, I understand why someone who works at an international company in Belgium, may find it hard to meet them. But that’s due to improper frequency of meeting Belgians. In Leuven, opportunity of frequency exists. Here though, internationals and Belgians seem subconciously enclave themselves, without meaning to given student associations and study groups are set up so internationals study and party with internationals, and Belgians study and party with Belgians and a subtle language barrier. However, there are always internationals who take the effort break this mould, and Belgians that do the same. And eventually, it’s no effort at all, because one stops fearing what one has become accustomed to. These are also, ultimately, the people that will break these stereotypes and integrate the two halves. Perhaps it hasn’t been difficult for me, because social culture in London schools, seems to some extent quite the same as in Belgium. So it’s normal here. One thing I have noticed though is internationals with a really positive mind-set i.e Nick Bottesini manage to connect with whom they want to, irrelevant of origin and nationality. Even if Belgians have more of a shell than others, I think perceiving it will only act as a barrier. If it turns out Belgians are like this, then they aren’t worth it. So continue being yourself anyway and don’t be scared to be that. Find the outliers amongst them, though I completely disagree anyway that this is a fair or helpful stereotype. I think it’s the disagreement both of me, and others, that causes us to make a meaningful friends here. That disagreement is our greatest asset. So maintain a positive attitude and get on with connecting with people. Forget these kinds of stereotypes, because they won’t help. And no matter how much apparent coldness you perceive, which must also exist intra-Belgian (if it even exists), never give up trying to find or maintain friendships with the people that mean something to you. You aren’t going to be exceptional, nor an outlier, if you appeal to averages. That’s what I say.

  45. Comment by Adrien

    Adrien April 18, 2014 at 22:09

    Dear Paola,

    Please, notice that all Belgians are available twenty four seven. But for our real friends.

    Fact is, expats like hanging out with expats. And actually, by this behaviour, you pay twice or more the normal prices for food, drinks, anything.

    We’re quite open-minded and pleased to meet someone new – but that doesn’t mean you’re one of our friends. You’re just an acquaintance.

    Acquaintances fly away, Friends remain.

  46. Comment by Bert

    Bert April 22, 2014 at 20:42

    Belgian and open for everything !

  47. Comment by Zoe

    Zoe April 23, 2014 at 21:10

    Hi there,
    5 years living in Belgium at the time , the first 2 years in Leuven and the last 3 years in a village ” Lummen” OMG the people living here are exactly what Paola said …good to know the reason 😉

  48. Comment by Pikachou

    Pikachou April 24, 2014 at 16:21

    Being Belgian, born in Brussels, working in Brussels, living in Brussels, I am often in contact with lots of expats from all over the world … but only for business. I can tell you that those working for the European Institutions see me as coming from the moon, since they usually, tend to flock together, i.e. Place du Luxembourg, the square where young and old Eurocrats come to network, drink, and socialise, basking all the while in the shadow of the European Parliament.

  49. Comment by MCN

    MCN April 25, 2014 at 08:51

    Paola, big congrats! I must say I read the articule many times and keep track to the comments.
    You have probably never expected this reaction. There is a social fenommen here that is wonderful. Some agree, some not agree at all (nationals and not). There is something even more interesting. How an opinion not about people about behaviors due idiosyncrasy (that we all have) have created a sort of flag ship of defense between Belgians, north and south, who don’t agree. Some people take it very personal. You have created an opportunity to discuss about something truly happening and affecting people in different ways otherwise you wouldn’t have got this response. Very interesting how polarize Belgians opinions are. Some even don’t want to live in their country anymore. It is always difficult, human condition, to accept critics. Sometimes human condition attend to react very passionate when we feel we have been touched. “Si el rio suena es porque piedras trae”

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