Intercultural communication Our lecture started with well-known demographic facts about Belgium – the population equals to 10,511,000, 15% of which are immigrants (1 In Belgium, Catholicism is the most widespread religion. There are also Moslems, Jews and Protestants. In general, people are open-minded about other religions and of course different nationalities. The cultural diversity is enriched by international and local immigration. In the last hundred years the most important immigrant groups were Jews who form a sizable community in Antwerp; Poles, who came after the fall of ommunism; Italians; North Africans and Turks.
There are many recent immigrants from other countries in the European Union also. There are three regions in the federal state: Flanders in the north where the official language is Dutch; Wallonia in the south where French is the official language; and Brussels-Capital region where both languages are used. The smaller German-speaking community is in Wallonia. The regions and language communities enjoy autonomy in cultural and economic matters.
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There are also a number of unofficial minority languages spoken here as well.
In Belgium, a sensitive issue is the relations between Dutch and French peakers. One should avoid questions or comments on that topic. My conclusion after these facts is that 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. Another interesting difference we can find in the fact that the Walloons (French speakers) have culture similar to French. For example Walloon food is influenced mainly by French cuisine, less than the Dutch. Dishes are with relatively large portions and excellent quality.
Widespread opinion is that Belgian cuisine is characterized by German portions size and French finesse and quality. But sometimes it tends to be spicier and higher in calories than modern French food. At the same time they share Belgium’s national passion for soccer and etc. Only in Brussels, the capital, do the two groups coexist. Brussels is one of the rare officially bilingual capitals of the world. The beer culture in Belgium is unique and the country offers its visitors over 400 different beers and consequently there are a lot of tours and opportunities for tasting available for lovers of the drink.
There are beer festivals throughout the whole year. Interesting stereotype is that Belgium brings beer, chocolate and waffles to mind. It is easy to forget the rich history and architecture of this country. The national dish is mussels with French fries. Even Belgians claim that the French fries are their invention. Also they have important table manner- the fork is held in the left hand and the knife in the right while eating, which have a great importance in their culture. Belgium does not have a lot of heroes, but they are proud of the tennis players Kim Clijsters and Justine Henin.
All these facts lead me to think that it is difficult to know the Belgian Culture very well, but when you have such an opportunity you should not miss it. We also talked about the meaning of gestures in different cultures. Gestures are been used to replace words in many countries, and they are often specific for different cultures. Gestures may mean something complimentary in one culture, but something highly ottensive in another. Generally, there are no universal gestures. Nowadays with the influence of television and movies, some gestures have become more widely known and accepted in many countries.
And in this intercultural world, if we want to succeed in international business and relationships, we should be aware of these differences, understand, respect and accept them. To many, these misunderstandings can still be quite offensive, not Just momentarily annoyances. Sometimes innocent actions can lead to very bad consequences. So before you travel, especially when it comes to exotic destinations or the trip is business directed and your career depends on it, you better get to know the habits and customs of the local people and be prepared so you know what behavior should to exhibit.
I will give some examples like the sign for 0K (when your thumb and forefinger are making a circle). If you are an English- speaking it means good, French understands it as zero or worthless and Japanese ould read it as money. But you shouldn’t show this to a Northern Greek. About 2000 years ago, ancient Greek vases have been found showing this gesture as an insult. And today it is still like this. Understanding the cultural differences is important to avoid misinterpretation of gestures and misunderstanding of the other person’s feelings and intentions.
Most Europeans like to stand physically close to the person whom they are having a conversation with, much closer than the Westerners. Consequently, Westerners think the Europeans are “pushy’ while Europeans think the Westerners are reserved. Other interesting knowledge was about the cultural competence and different ways to enhance it. We should all be treated equally, no matter what culture we are. This could include learning about traditions, beliefs, meaning of words, phrases, gestures, customs, activities and rituals. Lots of different cultures have different languages and rituals.
Cultural competence involves continually developing your awareness of your own and others’ cultures. Often what is considered an appropriate behavior in one culture is inappropriate in another one. By increasing awareness of cultural differences and the breaking down of tereotypes and prejudices, we can help to develop tolerance and understanding between nations. During the lecture we discussed the iceberg model of culture. This comparison is because like iceberg, the culture has both visible and invisible parts. Elements of the culture which we can plainly see, such as food or clothes, are represented by the upper portion of the iceberg.
Those elements which are not as obvious such as why someone eats or dresses the way they do are represented by the much larger portion of the iceberg underwater. l Communication in an international environment requires special training, consistent with the differences n national cultures. Each country has its own rules of behavior that determine the proper etiquette. Although foreigners are very tolerant of our mistakes and give them to ignorance they will be pleasantly surprised if one demonstrates some knowledge in this direction.
This will cause them to respect him and show sympathy, and this can be a decisive factor in establishing long-term relationships. If you want to understand other cultures – study them. This can be done not Just by reading about them, but also by participating in the customs and act according to the specific rules. Many people learn more than one culture, and managed to do well among them. When circumstances require people should be able to pass easily from one culture to another. Cultural ditterences are at the root ot many misunderstandings in communication between people of different nationalities.
Members of a certain culture rarely see anything beyond their own and reasonable view of things. I think the most important thing when you have to deal with different culture is to overcome the cultural shock. At the beginning you are excited about all the new things around. But at the next moment you are disappointed and dissatisfied. In fact, it turns out that you do not know anything about the new culture. Finding things that you do not know is exhausting, though quite exciting. Disappointments are unavoidable, and unavoidable are the mistakes that you make in the beginning.
After a little period of time you feel free to move in the other culture and learn not to have problems with the different beliefs, attitudes and values, and behavior, which they suggest. I knew almost nothing about Belgium before I moved here. I knew they had beer, chocolate and here is the home of the ELI, but I certainly couldn’t name many famous Belgians r recite interesting events in Belgium’s history. To this day I am still learning interesting facts about this little country. Belgium has a reputation for being a boring little country, but now we know the truth.
There are plenty of interesting places and things to do in Belgium, and many Belgium attractions can be appreciated during the whole year. Weather will affect some of the things that you might want to do in Belgium, but that Just means that you can enjoy something else. With lots of good museums, shops, restaurants, cafes, and pubs to choose from across the country, there’s never any reason to get bored on your stay in Belgium. One of the most interesting things is the wide variety of museums.
Only in Brussels you can find around forty museums including the Museum of Modern Art and the Royal Museum of Fine Arts of Belgium. There you can find collection of different artists, including the Flemish painters like Bruegel, van der WeiJden Rogir Robert Campillo, Anthony van Dyck, Jacob Yordans and Peter Paul Rubens. Also you can find the famous museum of the comics, where you can find a bunch of useful and interesting things and the museum of chocolate – at the entrance the visitor feels like the house of Hansel and Gretel by the Brothers Grimm fairy tale.