Occupation: Medical Writer
Residence: Staunton, VA
Date of Performance/Collection: April 18, 2021
Primary Language: English
Informant: “It comes from my dad. I remember distinctly, I was probably four and he said ‘I’m going to show you how to eat and orange like a monkey.’ And this is how you do it. You take an orange and you orient the stem perpendicular, and you cut it in half so that you see, you know, the typical cross-section if an orange with all the sections in a radiant circle like a sun. So, then you pick up- you do this to each side of the orange -you pick up the half of the orange and you take your little four-year-old teeth which grow into sixteen-year-old teeth and you go around the orange, you dig the flesh of each section out with your front teeth. Particularly good when you still have your front teeth but you don’t have your side teeth because you’ve lost them. So, you scoop the orange meat- pulp -out, going around the perimeter of the orange. Then, what you do is you take the orange and you squish it in half. So, you know, it’s a straight line on the top and you’ve got a semi-circle underneath it. Does that make sense?”
Informant: “So, you squish it in half and you hold it up to your mouth and you drain the orange juice that you can get into your mouth. So, then you take it down and then you fold it the other way so you still got a straight line, but now you’re taking the rest of the pulp- you understand what I’m saying? Like you fold it the other way and you do the same thing; you squish and you get all the orange juice out of the other half. And then what you do- now it’s all pliable, so you take your orange half, which is mostly peel now and some pith, and you turn it inside out and you eat each of the like sectional pith pieces one by one. And that- and then you do it to the other side of the orange -and that is how you eat an orange like a monkey. And I always did this my entire childhood.”
My informant considered this something almost unique to her family, though she said that she thinks her father learned it from a kid he went to high school with. She described this as something of a practical joke with practical benefits for her father:
“And then, about two years ago- I’m fifty-two, so when I was about fifty I said to my dad ‘You know, Dad, I’ve now fifty years old and I have never in my entire life seen someone eat an orange like a monkey except your children.’ And he said ‘Well, I learned it somewhere and as soon as I realized I had five children and as soon as the first one- as soon as I stopped peeling an orange for one through five then the first one would be hungry again. I knew I had to teach them how to eat an orange by themselves. Fortunately, I recalled how to eat an orange like a monkey, and I taught you all, and that’s how I escaped a life of peeling oranges.”
My informant says she did not proliferate this practice because she only had two kids- she didn’t mind cutting up two oranges.
This practice is difficult to interpret. Its marketing seems geared towards kids- eating like a monkey is fun for kids -so I wouldn’t be surprised if this was originally intended as a trick to get kids cutting their own oranges. However, the informant’s father learned it from a peer, not as a parenting trick, and applied it that way himself. I would tentatively suggest that this is folklore originating from children, given Jay Mechling’s analysis of how children’s rituals are often highly complex and absurd but treated with enough solemnity to follow the exact labyrinthine instructions. This also strikes me as a possible practical joke. Presumably, the goal would be to keep a straight face as you forced someone else through an intricate and increasingly ridiculous process. This seems likely as something taught by one high schooler to another.