So why am I recommending the word [naches] to my gentile brethren? Because we’re all Jews now, in that respect. There are no hereditary places anymore. Meritocracy decrees that everybody must achieve, achieve, achieve. Status derives from the college you attend and the other institutions to which you are able to attach yourself, then later, the ones your children do. (When I got a job at Yale, my father practically printed up cards to hand out at shul.) Naches-mongering is what they do in Greenwich now, as well, and on Park Avenue and Beacon Hill, not to mention every upscale neighborhood or suburb in the country, the West, the world.
I asked a couple of East Asian friends whether there is an analogous word in Chinese or Korean. They both said no; the operative concept there is filial piety, a bedrock Confucian virtue. We speculated about this. Filial piety is certainly a value in Jewish culture—it’s the Fifth Commandment, after all—and the notion of parental pride, my Korean friend remarked, is “almost too deep a concept to even be reflected in language,” and yet there is that difference in relative emphasis. It seems to come down to anxiety. East Asian parents do not typically worry that the child will fail to do his duty. But naches is forever shadowed by the fear of its absence. Filial rebellion and parental disappointment are major themes in the Jewish imagination, often figured (think of the Golden Calf) through the vexed relationship between the Children of Israel and God Our Father. These kids—such tzuris!