Customs of Luxembourg
Knowing the customs of a country is, in effect, a guide to understanding the soul of that country and its people. Luxembourgers cherish their independence and separate identity in Europe. Modesty, friendship and strong national pride are valued. They enjoy a slower pace of life than most of northern Europe. Family is very important. Parents influence every aspect of their children’s lives; however, this is weakening as more young people leave the country to study/work abroad.
A gentle handshake is most common and most appropriate in greeting acquaintances and when meeting someone for the first time. Close female friends may hug three times. Other close friends who have not seen each other for a long time may kiss each other’s cheeks three times. Polite inquiries about a friend’s health or a colleague’s work might accompany a greeting. Friends and relatives address each other by first names or nicknames, while acquaintances use titles and surnames. High-ranking persons may be addressed by more than one title, such as Här Minister ("Mr. Minister"), with or without the surname.
Building Relationships & Communication
Although third-party introductions are not necessary, they are recommended. It is important that you treat business colleagues with respect and not do anything to embarrass them. Luxembourg businesspeople develop personal relationships with the people with whom they conduct business. Do not brag about your accomplishments, as this is seen as a sign of poor breeding. Building a relationship requires demonstrating a sincere interest in the country and the people. This is a hierarchical culture, so it is crucial that you show proper respect and deference to those who have attained positions of importance. Luxembourgers are careful and prudent. They take time before they trust people and approach getting to know you in a deliberate, measured manner, which cannot be rushed. If you appear impatient, they will not do business with you. Luxembourgers are excellent linguists and many are sufficiently fluent to conduct meetings in English. This does not mean that they are familiar with the latest idioms or expressions. Be careful to speak slowly. Luxembourgers prefer subtlety to directness. Although their communication is more direct than many cultures, they use tact and diplomacy when speaking and expect the same in return. They will tell you what they think, even if it is not what you want to hear, but they will do so with the utmost of charm and politeness. Being blunt is considered rude. If you do not understand what has been said or want further clarification of a point, you may ask questions, as long as you do so politely. Luxembourgers prefer communication to be logical and based on reason. Business is not the place for emotions or feelings.
Business Meetings Etiquette
Appointments are necessary and should be made 1 to 2 weeks in advance if handled by telephone and 1 month in advance if arranged by letter. It is sometimes difficult to schedule meetings in July and August, which are common vacation times, the week between Christmas and New Year, and Easter week. Punctuality for meetings is taken extremely seriously. If you will be more than 5 minutes late, telephone and offer your apologies and an explanation. Arriving late may brand you as unreliable, since how can you be trusted to meet a deadline if you are late for a meeting? Send an agenda before the meeting. Belgians like their meetings to be well focused and to know what will be covered. Do not sit down until you are invited to do so. Meetings adhere to strict timetables. Meetings commence with a minimum amount of small talk. Once a meeting starts it will continue without interruption until it is finished. Maintain direct eye contact while speaking. Do not remove your jacket during a meeting. Presentations should be accurate and precise. Avoid hyperbole or making exaggerated claims. Present as much technical information as possible to support your position.
Meeting and Greeting
Shake hands with everyone present--men, women and children--at a business or social meeting. Shake hands again when leaving. Good friends kiss cheeks, one on each side. Greetings are reserved and formal until a relationship has been established. The most common greeting is a brief handshake. Very close friends greet each other by lightly kissing on the cheeks three times, starting with the left cheek and alternating. This can be between women or a man and a woman. Men never kiss other men; they always shake hands. Surnames with the honorific titles Monsieur or Madame are used in most social situations. Wait to be invited before using someone’s first name and always use the formal pronoun for you, "vous" rather than the informal "tu".
Luxembourgers take punctuality for business meetings very seriously and expect that you will do likewise; call with an explanation if you will be delayed. Meetings are brief. Luxembourgers usually get right down to business. People are reserved in both their business and private lives. Business/private lives are kept clearly separate. Traditionally, older, more established companies have had a strict hierarchy, but union representation on the board has become more common and a consensus-oriented decision style has been implemented.
Cleanliness and neatness are very important. For business, men should wear suits and ties, sometimes hats, or just a sports coat/blazer and dress pants. Women should wear dresses or suits.
Always bring a gift to the hostess when invited to someone’s home. It will probably not be unwrapped immediately (unless no other guests are present or expected). Give: bouquets of flowers (but not chrysanthemums), bottles of liqueur (but not cheap ones, ask the retailer to recommend one), chocolates. Small business gifts may be exchanged, but usually not at the first meeting. It is acceptable, but not expected, to give a Christmas gift to a Luxembourger colleague, but never send it to a Luxembourger’s home. Give: books, music, good quality liquor. If you are invited to someone’s home, bring a box of good chocolates or flowers to the hostess. Invitations to tea are formal and require the same gift as would a dinner party. Flowers should be given in odd numbers, but not 13, which is considered an unlucky number. Do not give chrysanthemums as they are used at funerals. A small gift for the children is always appreciated. Gifts are not usually opened when received if there are other guests present.
How to communicate with members of Luxembourg?
Three languages are recognized as official in Luxembourg: French, German, and Luxembourgish. Each of the three languages is used as the primary language in certain spheres. Luxembourgish is the language that Luxembourgers generally speak to each other, but it is not much written. Most official (written) business is carried out in French. German is usually the first language taught in school and is the language of much of the media and of the church. In fact, around 65% of all articles published in Luxembourg are in the German language, 25% are in French and only 10% in Luxembourgish. Luxembourg’s education system is trilingual: the first years of primary school are in Luxembourgish, before changing to German, while secondary school, the language of instruction changes to French. However, as proficiency in all three languages is required for graduation from secondary school, half the students leave school without a certified qualification, with the children of immigrants being particularly disadvantaged. In addition to the three official languages, English is taught in the compulsory schooling and much of the population of Luxembourg can speak some simple English, at any rate in Luxembourg City.