American in Italy, expat, italy, tips, working in italy

How to Spell in Italian Over the Phone

One of the scariest moments for a non native speaker living in Italy is calling/dealing with anything bureaucratic in Italian. I know from personal experience how daunting doing anything requiring giving info over the phone, such as your codice fiscale . An experience I liken to ancient forms of torture, like bamboo shoots under the nails. Personally my voice used to get higher and higher and I actually used to sometimes even hold the phone away from my face and wince. Not cute. Considering my last name starts with a “j” and there are pretty  much no words that actually start with “j” in Italian, I made the very fatal error of saying “juventes , which lets face it , doesn’t go over too well in a city full of Fiorentina fans. Alas, because of all of these awkward experiences using me as your guinea pig, I am here to HELP..


A fun fact: an English speaker uses the phonetic alphabet beginning with “Alpha Bravo Charlie.” ( and honestly , I don’t even know the rest..)

Most important to know: Italians use names of cities ( said over the phone/ in person t0 spell out words , so print the list below and tape it to a wall or somewhere you can easily see it when you make your 930902909494 telecom phone call  with a “friendly” customer service representative ;).

Italian Phonetic Alphabet 
A come Ancona
B come Bologna (or Bari or Brescia)
C come Catania (or Como)
D come Domodossola
E come Empoli (or Enna)
F come Firenze
G come Genova
H come Hotel (acca)
I come Imola
J (gei or i lunga) come jolly (the joker in Italian card games) (or Jugoslavia)
K (kappa) come Kursaal
L come Livorno
M come Milano
N come Napoli
O come Otranto
P come Palermo (or Padova or Pisa)
Q come Quaderno
R come Roma
S come Savona (Sassari or Siena)
T come Torino (Taranto)
U come Udine
V come Venezia (Verona)
W (vi/vu doppio) come Washington (Wagner)
X (ics) come Xanto (xilofono)
Y come ipsilon (York or yacht)
Z come Zara (Zurigo or zeta)

The only rule is to avoid a letter/town combination that could be mistaken for a different pair. So please, avoid the mistake of not learning this and stumbling around going “ehh ahhh georgette come …come….uhh  gas” and the the eventual on the other end of the person hanging up in frustration….PRONTO

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9 Comment

  1. Reply
    Jonnel Licari
    30.01.2012 at 19:44

    Great post! Essential information for anyone planning on doing much of anything official, over the phone or in person, in Italy. There is humor in the flip side as well: asking for “lo spelling” of something in Italian (they don’t even have a word for it because it is so unnecessary for native speakers of this perfect phonetical language!) and rather than getting a spelling you get a long, drawn out pronunciation of the word! Like that helps :-)!

    1. Reply
      30.01.2012 at 20:23

      grazie! i have been in that situation so many times and i just realized.. why don’t I ask an italian what the phonetic alphabet is, print it out and keep it with me at all times haha.. it makes spelling out a codice fiscale over the phone a lot less stressful. before I learned Italian, the boyfriend of my mom used to think that speaking to me louder meant I would understand… you can only imagine how THAT went.. tis the life of a non native speaker 😉

  2. Reply
    18.04.2012 at 21:51

    Maybe is better K come kilo then Kursaal

    1. Reply
      20.04.2012 at 14:17

      infatti! ho dimenticato di kilo… thank’s for the suggestion

  3. Reply
    Jennifer Avventura
    29.05.2012 at 6:50

    Awesome list, grazie!

  4. Reply
    Pecora Nera
    24.01.2013 at 12:13

    Great post, but I cheat, I pass the phone to Mrs Sensible.

    1. Reply
      24.01.2013 at 15:52

      Good job

  5. Reply
    Rick Zullo
    24.09.2014 at 18:42

    VERY helpful suggestions! Yes, I’ve overheard others using the city names…seems to be the standard. Grazie!!

  6. Reply
    28.04.2016 at 9:02

    helpful! grazie! I’m going to print this myself for those stressful phonecalls where the person on the other end is as you described “friendly”. LOL

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