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11:32am on Sunday, 26th July, 2009:
We're holidaying in Paris this year (well, we are if my brother's funeral doesn't clash with it). It's ages since we were last there, so I bought a couple of guidebooks. Then, because Waterstones had a three-for-two offer on travel books I hadn't noticed, I ran over to the shelf and got a third one for free. It had to be less expensive than the lowest-priced of the other two to qualify, and since one of those was a cheap pocket guide this meant I had to go for an even cheaper pocket guide.
So it was that I wound up with a 15th edition (2008) of the Berlitz Paris Pocket Guide.
I've tried Berlitz pocket guides before and adjudged them largely useless, so was not planning on buying another one ever again. I didn't exactly buy this one, though, so my plans are still intact.
Now as it happens, we already had a 2nd Edition (1995/1996) edition of this guide, although the fact that it is copyright 1978, 1990, 1992, 1994, 1995 leads me to suspect that it is the second edition of the fifth edition. I think we got that one for free when we booked a trip to EuroDisney. Still, I thought I'd compare it with my new copy to see how much had changed.
I was expecting to see a big intersection between the two, but was surprised to find that they're almost entirely different. Even the maps are different. Here's the rear-cover pull-out from 1995:
Here's the equivalent from 2008:
I actually prefer the 1995 version here: it may be garish but it's readable. I have an idea that the new one may have been put in subdued pastel shades to make it more appealing to marketers' view of women; either that, or to colour-blind people.
The rest of the content is organised entirely differently. They still make the mistake of spending several pages rattling on about the history of Paris (people want these books to explain very quickly what they should see and why it's worth seeing; they don't want them to pretend to be the proper guidebooks they've read but that don't fit in their pockets), but they do it in a way that explains why Paris has its sights, rather than in political terms that can briefly be summarised as "gosh, those Parisians are a bolshie bunch". The sights themselves are organised by district, rather than by theme ("around the Eiffel Tower" instead of "Pomp and Circumstance"). They've added a few more French phrases and dropped the embarrassing phonetic pronunciation guide (would any English-speaker, on the basis of advice to say bawngzhoor, produce a sound that the French would recognise as meaning bonjour?).
I'm therefore quite impressed that the Berlitz people have actually made some effort to improve their guide beyond replacing their original photographs with ones that won't age as badly. The new version really is a lot better than the old one.
It's still largely useless, though.
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