Bearing Left in BEAR COUNTRY

Inviting you to unfamiliar wonders
Alberta Canada, Epstein family photos

If you, dear reader, will bear with me for a few moments, I will try to briefly explain how “bears” can baffle a tourist.

Obviously, one must grin and bear the inconvenience of long flights and jet lag with grace, if one wishes to see the wild wonders of Alberta, Canada, including a few of its bears, in person.

That is, bears that are animals. Whatever the fur color, I certainly had in mind bears that are unconcerned with linguistics.

Actual live bear in Canada, but not a great picture…
(Naomi’s photos)
Bears in Alaska (just because it is a better picture!) Epstein Family photos

However, it seems that the region is “bear country” in more than one way.

Please bear in mind, as you read this, that people in Canada have a delightful reputation of being very polite.  This politeness extends to the SatNav or GPS system that came with our rental car. It is the first such system we have ever encountered when traveling abroad that says “please”before the instructions, as in:

“Please turn right”

“Please bear left”.

For some unknown reason, “bears” were mainly invoked when turning left, not right, though not exclusively.

At first I found myself attempting to assess the angle of the turns – it had always been my understanding that for a fork in the road, or a slight veering to the left off the main road, one could say “ bear left” . But at a classic junction , with a  90 degree angle, one must “turn” , not “bear“.  However, I could not find any correlation between the characteristics of the turn to the  device’s use of “turn left” or “bear left”.

I know, no turn of any sort in this photo, but so beautiful!
Epstein family photos

Since I couldn’t bear the thought that I had misunderstood the terminology all my life I turned to Google. As far as I can ascertain, the “bear” question seems to be a cultural issue – American English vs. British English. As a native speaker of American English my understanding of the usage appears to be quite common. That’s a comforting thought.

When do YOU “turn left” and when do YOU “bear left”? When do YOU invoke bears in your driving instructions?











2 thoughts on “Bearing Left in BEAR COUNTRY”

  1. Getting Your Bearings (north of the equator)

    In order to know where you are,
    The best way’s to find the North Star.
    Two stars in Big Bear
    Are pointing to where
    Polaris in Small Bear shines far.

    Around the Pole star in his tail swings
    The 12 constellations in grand rings.
    This looking at bears
    (If anyone cares)
    Is why we say “getting our bearings”.

    composed by: Izzy Cohen

    For a much more scientific explanation, see

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