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Three weeks in Lufkin, Texas - 10/10/2016

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For purposes of work I spent three weeks in Lufkin. For practical reasons and reasons of costs, I stayed here for the week-ends providing me an opportunity to visit the town and surrounding areas. I was also able to go to museums, to concerts, to the zoo and fortunately to the Angelina Airfest, and also I take a lot of photos and videos that you can find at the end of this article.

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Lufkin is a small town with population of thirty-five thousand, in East-Texas.

As this place is outside the big tour and I went alone, this trip allowed me to really discover the daily life of Americans.

In France, as elsewhere in the world, the US is under the spotlight and there are many misconceptions about the continent and its people.

After ten hours of flight, I come in Houston. Security checks were drastic and long enough. However American people are very welcoming and helpful; seeing that I was a foreigner, the airport staff and other travelers did not hesitate to come to me to guide me.

To go to Lufkin, I had to rent a car in Houston but unfortunately I lost my driving license at the airport. So I was pedestrian for three weeks in US which was an interesting experience.

From Mondays to Fridays, to work I used a taxi, but on weekends I moved on foot. Lufkin is a small town; you can go from one end to the other in less than three hours walk. There are not many places where you can walk through the major highways that crisscross the city and many streets and roads lack sidewalks. I got a city map at the hotel, and with the help of Google maps I was able to locate where it's possible to walk and cross roads. Unfortunately use a bicycle as alternative transportation seems impossible; it's too bad because Lufkin should be a pleasant place to cycle: the terrain is very flat and it receives little rain.

Almost half of the cars here are pickups; these vehicles, very rare in France, have four-wheel drive and can carry up to six passengers and a huge payload in the back.

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A big metal box with a lock is often installed at the back to serve as a car trunk. Americans are very attached to their cars, sometimes they give it a name; USA Today revealed that about one in six people actually had a harder time "breaking up" with their car than ending their first relationships.

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Trucks in US are also typical. Behind the cockpit there is often a spacious living space. In the US the distances are enormous and before reaching destination drivers must sleep several nights in their truck.

And also I find in Lufkin the famous yellow school buses.

Driving in US is quite different; the Highway Code is not the same as in France. The main difference is that there is no "right priority". Priority corresponds to the order of arrival of vehicles at the intersection. When two vehicles coming towards each other both turn left, they pass in front and not behind as in France - in other words their paths do not cross. Red lights are installed behind the intersections and not before. Finally, the "french cyclist turns right rule" is valid for all vehicles; at a red light, you can turn right if the way is clear. It is important to know all these details before driving or walking in the USA!

Thus in US cars have automatic gear box, while in France we still use manual gear boxes.

Unlike in France, in Texas it's very important to check the weather every day. The temperature can be extremely warm (40C in October), and although it rarely rains, thunderstorms can be very violent. Also you have to respect carefully all safety instructions in case of storm or hurricane.

Another strange thing for French people who usually use the metric system is the US Imperial Units. Temperatures are in F, distances in miles, foot and inch; quantities are in lb and oz. Have a conversion chart in your pocket is a good idea!

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As a dollar is worth about one euro, I should not confuse with the prices. In the shops prices are often displayed without tax, the 8.5% VAT is added only at checkout. In France prices displayed include the 20% VAT.

In US French credit cards are accepted in all shops but 90% of the ATM refuses it.

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Americans mostly use bills to pay; there are both $ 1 bills and $ 1 coins. Often, vending machines accept bills. Like in Switzerland, in the US old bills and coins continue to remain legal tender. For collectors it's exciting, in the US you find a lot of nice commemorative coins.

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There are no general rules for opening hours. Some museums are closed on Sundays. Some stores open very early (6:00 AM) and / or very late (until 10:00 PM). Walmart superstore is always open 24 hours per day, seven days a week.

In France we think food in the USA is not good. This is not true; you can eat very well in steakhouse and seafood restaurant, from $10 to $30.

Especially meat is excellent, and the Bayou specialties based on fish and seafood are truly worth. Mexican restaurants are cheap and offer original specialties. Also there are a lot of fast foods in which you can eat for just a few dollars.

Do not expect to overcome a full menu with a starter, a dish and a dessert; in US dishes are very generous. Unlike in France where we take just a coffee at morning, the breakfast is US is a real meal, with a lot sweet and savory dishes.

In the US, I use to take a great breakfast and a great diner, but nothing at lunch. Also in this way it's more practice to organize my time.

Americans eat many food and drinks that are not found in France: corn, peanut butter, maple syrup, cakes pumpkin, pecans, Dr. Pepper and Root Beer. California wines are very good and are comparable to our best French wines.

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Notice that some restaurants do not serve alcohol; as French is very strange to eat a great steak with a soda. Also drinking water contains much more chlorine than in France; when I drank it the first day of my trip I did not supported it. My first purchase in the US was a mineral water pack!

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There is a lot of free space in Texas, and Lufkin is spread out over a large area. Most people live in traditional American wooden houses. The houses are often painted with different colors and personalized with decorative accessories, which gives a certain charm to the city.

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Each house is surrounded by a garden. There are also some larger houses made up of stone or brick, quite luxurious. US mailboxes have a "flag mechanism" that automatically rises when the postman leaves mail; so people can check if they've got mail without going outside.

Road signs use a lot of text; it's quite explicit, unlike in France where our signs use mainly colors and symbols.

Americans are very patriotic; everywhere you can see flags of Texas and the Stars and Stripes. God is very important for Americans; most of us are protestant. Unlike the Catholic religion, Protestant religion is not centralized by Rome.

Also there are a lot of different churches in Lufkin; each church has its own philosophy and way of life. So each American can choose the church that works best for him. In Lufkin there are churches that celebrated mass in Spanish, useful for the Mexican community.

There are three museums in Lufkin.

The Naranjo natural history museum, located at the south of the city, offers a fine collection of fossils and dinosaur skeletons. A part of the museum is devoted to American history, including the various Native American tribes and the Civil War.

The museum also includes a section on space exploration with models of the shuttle Columbia and the Curiosity rover, and even a moon rock brought back to Earth by Apollo 14. There are also some artifacts of the old continent. Outside a monument honors soldiers killed in WWI, WWII, Vietnam War and Korean War.

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The other two museums are dedicated to nature.

The Museum of East Texas has a great collection of insects.

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The Museum of Forestry focuses on the forest as the name suggests. For Lufkin, forest is an important resource. As I said above wood is the main building material for houses. At the north of the city there is a zoo, a large park and several lakes. It's a perfect place for fishing and observing animals.

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Fortunately, the Angelina Airfest, one of the most important events of the year took place during my stay in Lufkin. Several thousand spectators could admire many flying machines; some of them are very old like the 1928 three-engine Ford plane. In the other hand, there is some modern stuff like the micro-jet used for aerobatics.

Also there is a lot of WWII aircraft, from America and others countries like the Japanese Zero or the famous MIG 17 from USSR. At the end of the fest I could take a ride on a Vietnam's war veteran helicopter on the copilot seat!

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Another misconception: coming to Texas I expected to see many armed people but it was not. In town there are a few armories, but most parks, shops and public places have a sign at the entrance indicating that it's forbidden to enter with a weapon.

In France, where we benefit from "the French cultural exception", we tend to think that other countries have a poor cultural life. It's wrong.

Lufkin is a small town but in downtown the Pines Theater hosts several shows each month. The city also has a cinema and several local radio stations in common with the neighboring city Nacogdoches. More interesting to me, just right next to my hotel one of the restaurant is a café-concert; every Wednesday, Friday and Saturday local musicians come to play, around the rock aesthetic.

On stage, I could see and hear Presley Lewis, Johnny Riley, Bryan Harkness, Marshall Hance, Cody Wayne, Clint Alford and Sam Shupak.

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After every concert I could exchange a few words with the musicians.

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People here are very welcoming and when they discover that I am a foreigner they redoubled their attention and curiosity with me.

Like in France, the United States is at election time. Here people support their favorite candidate by placing a small sign in front of their home. Americans have a lot of humor, for example a found the "Trump book of insults" that is a coloring book for adults.

Here are the links to the photos and videos galleries:

Lufkin city:
- fly to houston
- downtown
- churchs
- houses
- Lufkin Industries Inc.
- street art
- cars
- trucks
- roads
- trains

Museum of Forestry:
- trains
- old train station
- Machines
- fire lookout tower
- tools
- sawmill workers' house
- wooden-stuff
- trees

Nature:
- nature
- Ellen Trout zoo 1/3
- Ellen Trout zoo 2/3
- Ellen Trout zoo 3/3

Museum of East Texas:
- the museum
- insects
- Ann Phifer Reyes
- Jeanelle Mc Call

Naranjo Museum:
- dinosaurs
- fossils and rocks
- prehistory
- history of America
- space

Angelina Airfest:
- ride on helicopter
- parachutists
- aerobatic 1/5
- aerobatic 2/5
- aerobatic 3/5
- aerobatic 4/5
- aerobatic 5/5
- MIG 17
- Navy plane
- night mission
- shark plane
- Zero
- helicopter
- hovercraft
- 1928 Ford plane
- planes 1/2
- planes 2/2
- Modelers club
- airport

In concert:
- Presley Lewis
- Johnny Riley
- Bryan Harkness
- Marshall Hance
- Cody Wayne
- Clint Alford
- Sam Shupak

Also, money and politics.


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