How embracing do you think your culture is toward those who are different? What is the status quo toward those who come from a different country, wear different clothes or just use a different lingo? In Australia, I think on the whole we are a very warm, friendly bunch. At least, initially. The stereotype of Australians saying "G'day mate, how's it going?" actually highlights one common charactistic of Australians, that of our warm greeting. But it seems to me that how long we continue to help a newcomer depends on how inconvenient they are. If they have an irritating accent, have awkward gestures or mannerisms,etc. then we'll probably politely leave you to fend for yourself.
In France, this is probably often true too. After all, Parisians are typecasted as having no time for English-speaking tourists (due to an unfrench accent and so on…). But my experience of Parisians has been overwhelmingly positive when asking for directions, visiting restaurants and talking to store keepers (aside from being ripped off/ robbed or sold illegal merchandise, albeit the thieves were foreign not French). In Lille, I've really felt a vibe that's more welcoming, or at least more accepting, toward different forms of dress than back at home. Of course, it could be that as a foreigner I don't pick up on the non-verbal cues as well as in my own culture, or than I don’t correctly interpret them.
Hélas (unfortunately), France clearly hasn't eradicated racism completely. Far from it. There is a lot of suspicion toward the gypsy Roma people (expelled/unwelcome in Romania) for example, and not entirely unjustifiably so. After all, they often do thieve, cheat and lie across Europe to squeeze more money from tourists and locals. However, it is unfair to say all Romas are like that, and indeed many French recognise that. I think that suspicion of the 'other' (ie. foreigner) in France is rife, however there is still a flicker of warmth toward exchange students and those who make a decent effort to speak French. Once, I was really lost at Lille 3, my university, and a student or staff helped me quite a bit, despite being pressed for time.
One endearing thing that the Lillois (people who live in Lille) do is hold doors open for others, and not just for ladies mind you. I would say this is typical in France, but am not sure, since I haven't travelled to too many other regions. Also, letting others go first occasionally happens too, with a polite je vous en prie, meaning 'you're welcome' or 'go ahead, it's fine'.
My early wonderings aloud whether I'd get cultural shock...
My impressions of Lille 3, my university.
Funny cultural observations while in France
For my experiences of the Homeless in France, click here.