Belgians agree to differ: where do Flemings and Walloons diverge?


It’s more than the language that sets Flemings and Walloons apart. When you first move to Belgium, it might be interesting to learn a thing or two about the peaceful boundary between the regions of Flanders and Wallonia. You will find it easier to live and work among both groups once you know their particularities.

To be fair, in Brussels, the difference isn’t always obvious. That’s because the Belgian metropolis is also the capital of the European Union, a melting pot of  nationalities and cultures. Its global ambiance contrasts with the vibes of Antwerp and Liège, two major cities on opposite sides of Belgium’s fuzzy linguistic boundary.

Let’s talk linguistics

The language difference might not be the only dissimilarity between Flemings and Walloons, but it’s certainly the most obvious. Flemings speak Flemish, a variation of Dutch, while in Wallonia, French is the official language. This distinction goes far back into Belgium’s history, and Dutch only became an official tongue in 1898 (French was the literary language of choice as early as 1200). Whilst the capital of Brussels is officially bilingual, French is the most common spoken and written language in the municipality.

At the office: 6 interesting observations

Professionally, Flemings and Walloons often distinguish themselves from each other, as they come from significantly different cultural backgrounds – of which they are proud, naturally. So, just how different are they? Some common workplace generalisations:

  1. While Flemings are usually more reserved, Walloons tend to kiss their colleagues in the mornings and often enjoy friendly banter;
  2. Flemings often want their work to be done as efficiently as possible, while Walloons may focus more on interpersonal relations;
  3. Flemings generally get straight to the point, whereas Walloons appear to focus more on diplomacy and the way concepts are expressed;
  4. Flemings may seem to take things more seriously, which may make them more stressed and worried as a downside, while Walloons are often more laid back;
  5. Flemings tend to address each other more casually, whilst Walloons are usually on the formal side;
  6. Negotiating a deal might take a little longer in Wallonia, as they like to review agreements from all angles and want every point to be clearly written down. 

Collaboration, not rejection

It’s important to emphasise that none of this is black and white. Even more, if there’s one thing Flemings and Walloons have in common, it’s their ability to embrace their differences. Once you are aware of the contrasts, these two demographics are more similar than they are different. Sure, they may not speak the same language in more than one way, but it would be a boring world indeed if we were all alike!

Enjoy your time in Belgium without worries! Link2Europe makes your expat experience a better one.