Once a week, Black Balloon's editorial assistant Kate Gavino chooses the best Q and the best A from one of New York's literary in-store events. Here, she draws from Gary Shteyngart and Jonathan Safran Foer's discussion at the New Yorker Festival on October 5.
Do you plan to teach your children your native tongue?
Gary Shteyngart: I don't have children but I have a dachshund, and he's sort of Croatian … But if I did have a child, I don't think I would teach him or her Russian. I would put it on the menu. My wife is from a different culture as well; she's Korean. We could put some cabbage and some kimchi on the table and say, “What would you like to eat?” These things happen much later in life, too, which is interesting. I spent so much of my childhood when I was in Hebrew school trying to repress the fact that I was Russian, and I'd tell kids that I was German. Better to be German than being Russian during the evil Ronald Reagan empire. But then I went to this Marxist college in Ohio, Oberlin, and all of a sudden, being Russian was the best thing you can do … That's how it happens. A child rediscovers his or her roots, but it can never be forced. You should never tell a child, “You must learn the Cyrillic alphabet.”
Jonathan Safran Foer: I actually disagree. I think you won't learn [another language] unless you're forced to learn it. It's nice, the idea, to take a trip every now and then and learn three words. But I have two kids, and in my experience, if he chooses that he wants to play piano but never plays piano, then he won't be a young person who has any kind of musical proficiency ... I went to Hebrew school as well, but this one was really informal and there was no chance of learning language. But now we have Hebrew speaking baby sitters, and [the kids] take lessons as well. Do they always like it? Not really, but the goal of a parent isn't to give a life that the kid likes all of the time. You hope that can be the case, but it's not the only incentive. Otherwise they wouldn't go to school. They would eat mac and cheese all day long.
Gary Shteyngart: A child should be taught, but in my case, it's accounting or Excel. Something useful.
Image: Kate Gavino