Welkom / Welcome!
Belgium is one of the most urbanized and densely inhabited countries in the world with about 97 percent of the 10 million inhabitants living in cities in 2000. Brussels, the capital, has approximately 1 million residents, and the second city, Antwerp, has half a million.
The nation's cultural diversity has been enriched by international and local immigration. The high numbers of Flemish names in the south and Walloon names in the north indicate long time internal mobility. In the last hundred years the most important immigrant groups were Jews who form a sizable community in Antwerp; Poles, who came in the early 1930s and after the fall of communism; Italians (in the 1930s and 1950s); and North Africans and Turks, who arrived in the 1960s. There are many recent immigrants from other countries in the European Union as well as many expatriates working in or around European Union institutions and NATO headquarters. The percentage of noncitizens in the population is high at 15 percent nationally and 28 percent in Brussels.
Belgium is not a homogeneous country with one national identity. As such, it is therefore difficult to give a general overview that applies to all Belgians. Each area will have its own particularities. The three predominant cultures are: 1) in north, Flanders - primarily Dutch, 2)in the south, Wallonia - primarily French and 3) the northeast - primarily German influenced.
Belgium became independent from the Netherlands in 1830. It was occupied by Germany during World Wars I and II. The country prospered in the past half century as a modern, technologically-advanced European state and a member of NATO and the EU. Tensions between the Dutch-speaking Flemish of the north and the French-speaking Walloons of the south have led, in recent years, to constitutional amendments granting these regions formal recognition and autonomy.
Family plays a central role in most Belgians' lives. The obligation to the family is a person's first priority. Many people remain in the town in which they were raised, which creates close extended families.
Belgium’s strong tradition of fine cuisine is expressed in its large number of top-rated restaurants. The country is known for moules frites (mussels served with french fries) as well as waffles, a popular snack item. Belgian chocolate is renowned around the world and may be considered a cultural institution. Chocolatiers such as Neuhaus, Godiva, and Leonidas, among others, are internationally acclaimed for their truffles and candies sold in small, distinctive cardboard boxes. Chocolate is one of Belgium’s main food exports, with the majority being shipped to other EU countries.
Beer is Belgium’s national beverage; the country has several hundred breweries and countless cafés where Belgians enjoy a great array of local brews, including the famed Trappist and lambic varieties. While the reputation of Belgian beer is often overshadowed by that of its larger neighbour, Germany. the brewing and consuming of beer within the country is a cultural institution in and of itself. Most beers have particular styles of glasses in which they are served, and a variety of seasonal brews are synonymous with various holidays and celebrations. It is also common for special brews to be created for occasions such as weddings, a tradition that is reported to have begun in the early 1900s, when nearly every village had a brewery. In many small Belgian villages, the brewer was also the mayor.