In Belgium you will walk through medieval town squares and streets in the midst of a thoroughly modern country. Belgium’s cuisine reflects its varied people and history, influenced by the French, Dutch, Austrians, and Spanish (and don’t forget about the chocolate). Belgium consists of three regions: Flanders in the north, where most people speak Dutch; Wallonia in the south, where most speak French; and Brussels, the bilingual capital located in the center of the country, also home to the European Union and NATO.
Belgians are tolerant, flexible, modest, sincere, warm, friendly and open-minded. Belgians value privacy, enjoy a safe and comfortable life, work hard and are self-disciplined. People will be glad to know you, but you may have to make the first steps toward establishing contact. By showing enthusiasm and interest, by using your charm, tact and openness, you will build real bonds with your new family and friends.
Family life is very important in Belgium. Teenagers are used to deferring to parents at all times, and parents maintain authority and expect the children to follow their rules as long as they live at home. Both parents usually work and you will be expected to do your share of the housework and daily chores like the other children in your host family. This reflects the particularly Flemish style of working out compromises and “pragmatic anarchism.” Despite the dislike for imposed discipline, the Flemish are well-organized and self-disciplined people.
Social life will often centers on family and a small group of friends. Belgian youth enjoy attending concerts, going to the movies or a lecture and sharing a drink or meal together. Many of them enjoy scouting activities on weekends.
School activities are very demanding and rather intellectual, which is why outside activities are practiced in youth clubs. Common sporting activities include practice athletics, basketball, volleyball or netball. Also available are public swimming pools, sport centers, football clubs and riding schools. Music, drama, singing, drawing, painting and sculpture are taught in special schools called Académies, with classes after school or in the evening. Teenagers often study for two or three hours in the evening and sometimes during the weekend. Because of the stringent academic setting and high achievement levels needed to move onto the next grade, many Belgian students repeat at least 1 grade.
Dress is casual, but neatness and cleanliness are important. Teenagers wear jeans, t-shirts, sweaters and shoes or sneakers. As in many parts of Europe, a wardrobe consisting of a change of clothes for every day of the week is not necessary.
Flemish cuisine is much more than good chocolate and beer. Some say that it is actually one of the best in the world. Certainly, Flemish people enjoy eating (they are said to be real bon vivants) and families get together regularly for the evening meal, while during the midday meal everyone is either at work or in school. Meat and seafood are common staples, accompanied by bread and potatoes, and often cooked with oil or broth. One of the things Flemish are particularly proud of are frites (chips or fries), which they claim to have invented.
Some other traditional Flemish foods are the stoofvlees (stewed meat in a sauce prepared with brown beer) or the famous waffles now eaten all around the world. There is not much junk food, and raiding the refrigerator is not done. Usually children do not start the meal before the mother or father does, nor do they get up before everyone is finished.
There are three language regions in Belgium. In Flanders (northern Belgium), Dutch is spoken by 6 million inhabitants, while French is spoken by about 3.5 million in Wallonia (southern Belgium). Many Belgians speak both languages. German is also spoken by the 70,000 inhabitants of the German area near the eastern border. English is also widely understood. The majority of the population is Roman Catholic (75%), while the rest are mostly Protestant.