Hannibal Lecter in the Tech Age: 9 Lessons in Modern Etiquette from a Serial Killer

The Cannibal King of Courtesy

“Whenever feasible, one should always try to eat the rude.”

By Daniel Nguyen, Wharton County Junior College


Hannibal Lecter, the Lithuanian sociopath more widely known by his rhyming moniker “Hannibal the Cannibal,” has been terrorizing and advocating proper etiquette in equal measures since 1981, when the doctor was first introduced to audiences in the murder-mystery novel “Red Dragon.”

Since then, the cannibal serial-killer has moved on to bigger and better things, appearing in the box-office hit “Silence of the Lambs” as a playful version of the typically terrifying British actor Anthony Hopkins, and most recently as the deliciously coy and stylishly slick Danish actor Mads Mikkelsen in his very own (but sadly canceled) network TV show. Unfortunately, the doctor’s uncompromising standards of convention had the network TV board at odds, and only one side came out alive.

In more fortunate news, your favorite Renaissance man and psycho killer might be returning to screens in the near future. Until then, here are 9 updated lessons in etiquette and politeness from the Cannibal King himself.

1. Put Your Phone Down

Like that overplayed song on the radio you love to hate, this piece of overshared advice probably has you aiming for another station.

Still, Hannibal says that nothing showcases rudeness more explicitly then diverting one’s attention from a conversation to check on something outside the immediate interaction.

But at the risk of sounding like a cantankerous old man, let’s move on.

2. Know Your Boundaries

Social media has people sharing more of their lives than ever, but norms of conversation still dictate that you limit more inquisitive questions to close friends and family.

Remember to keep probing questions to a minimum, and don’t be like that one census taker. Livers are responsible for filtering toxins out of your body, and without them you can develop any number of diseases.

3. Use Your Words

In an era of nigh-omnipotent Minions, emoticons and gif-generated modes of communication, using your words carefully can be more meaningful than ever.

As Mr. Lecter puts it, “Words are living things. They have personality, point of view, agenda.”

4. False Pretenses

If you invite someone out to lunch, do exactly that! Have them out for lunch! And nothing else.

Don’t spoil conversation with mentions of work or case files, at the very least they’ll be highly annoyed, and at the most you might find yourself short a member of your own body of friends.

5. People Are Friends, NOT Food

Applicable in situations of dire hunger, this elegant piece of 21st century wisdom comes from the animated jaws of a character from one of Pixar’s most beloved films, Finding Nemo.

First, don’t treat your friends solely as an avenue for a quick bite when you’re too lazy/hermetic/anxious to go out. Instead, Hannibal advises learning how to cook.

If you’re particularly desperate (haven’t shopped for groceries in weeks), and thinking of having an old friend for dinner in hopes they’ll bring some much-needed food, repeat this helpful mantra in your mind.

People are friends, NOT food

People are friends, NOT food

People are friends, NOT food

People are friends, NOT food

People are friends, NOT food

And next time, try delivery (Grubhub or any other food delivery app should do the trick).

6. No Instagramming the Food

Unless you prepared the food yourself as part of a nine course meal featuring imported wines and flaming ortolans, put the camera away for now.

Food is meant for eating, and isn’t nearly as satisfying in pictorial form anyway. In any case, why would you take pictures when you have at your disposal a comprehensive memory system?

7. Remember Their Name

Just don’t stretch it. Maybe use it every other sentence, instead of every other word.

Don’t stretch it out into weird polysyllabic resemblances of their name. It’s Josh. Not Josh-eee, or Clar-eece. This is neither acceptable in spoken conversation or online communication and should be specifically reserved for those under the age of 8.

Most importantly, try not to do what the media does and create alliterative or rhyming nicknames for your friends. They’ll hate you for it, and you might end up regretting the decision later down the line.

8. Take Your Time

Live as if you’re confined in a maximum security prison and charged with multiple life sentences.

Imagine: Between eating food far below your exquisite standards and wondering how force-resistant your holding cell’s glass is, most of your life consists of long stretches of boredom replaced by greater stretches of somehow greater boredom.

Your only source of entertainment is coming down the hallway, so you want to make the interaction last as long as possible. Even as you’re subconsciously trying to manipulate your conversation partner into doing something they don’t want to do but can’t help but do, treat your conversation partner like a much-needed visitor.

9. Patience Is a Virtue

Bored of the current conversation? Itching to get that phone out and see if there’s anything new in the world since you began this 15-minute charade?

If you’re starting to wonder how the person opposite you might taste caramelized and smoking over an open fire, it’s time to re-evaluate your situation.

Remember that everyone is normal and boring until you really get to know them—investigate their insides if you will. Imagine the first few interactions as a tedious but necessary preparation method until you can truly get to the juicy bits, the parts they usually hide from everybody else.

Until they’re ready to share their interiors with you (and remember, this takes time), be patient. It’s a universal, virtuous practice that will keep the fire of your friendship burning.

In a fast-paced technological world, it can be hard to apply Hannibal’s standards to slow down and engage. While Hannibal has some of the highest requisites for politesse out there, he can also be blinded by his own intelligence. Sometimes it’s best to just level with people, and treat them as people, not hunks of meat or analog versions of their more interesting digital presences.

Through the reams of wisdom offered by the good doctor himself and the power of perspective, you can go out there and wow the world with your ability to converse without reverting to any cannibalistic tendencies, or worse—pulling out your phone.

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