Benelux is a bona fide melting pot… And despite an apparent uniformity in the business culture, the three countries still have certain particularities. These cultural differences need to be decoded in order to avoid any misunderstandings that could adversely affect your business!
Obviously, it’s impossible to gain a command of every language before moving into a new market… But fortunately, the Benelux population is by and large multilingual. For instance, almost all Dutch people are fluent in the international language of business, namely English. As for the Luxembourgers, a study by the European Commission reveals that they speak an average of 3.6 languages! Having said that, being able to use a few words or certain polite forms in the local language – especially according to the linguistic region you’re in within Belgium – will show that you’re interested and help establish a climate of trust with your business contact.
In Luxembourg, respect for protocols, punctuality, politeness and courtesy always give the right impression… One such example concerns the very clear separation between work and personal life there: it’s best not to be overly friendly or to ask your colleague or client about their family or other personal matters. Belgian and Dutch people, on the other hand, are a little more open to intimacy, often having slightly friendlier relationships at work and generally operating within a somewhat more laid-back atmosphere.
Generally speaking, Belgians adhere fairly strictly to the established pecking order. In traditional Luxembourg business culture, this is also well established and decisions tend to be taken from on high. The Dutch, by contrast, are suspicious of this way of working, instead preferring a more horizontal business hierarchy. Relations between employees and their superiors are less formal, more egalitarian. Whatever their position, everyone is invited to give their opinion and is therefore more involved in the decision-making process. So in order to be respected, foreign managers need to avoid displaying any attitude of superiority!
Luxembourgers often prefer subtlety to outright frankness, which they can take as being offensive or even rude. Belgians also tend to prefer dialogue and compromise to confrontation, but the fact that they don’t openly say “no” doesn’t mean they won’t put up a softer form of resistance… The Dutch, conversely, are much more direct! They won’t hesitate to voice open criticism or object to a decision. It’s pointless taking offence though, as for them, frankness amounts to evidence of honesty and efficiency. They say what they think… and expect the same direct approach from their counterparts.
So now you know!
You’re now equipped with all the tools you need to fit in well in Benelux… and to do good business.