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How to Spell in Italian Over the Phone

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Photo Credit: Алина Осипова

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, 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 let’s 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…

Man pretending to speaking on the phone

 

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 to 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 Yugoslavia)

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 Ypsilon (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 eventual on the other end of the person hanging up in frustration…PRONTO

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9 Responses

  1. 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. 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. 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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Georgette Jupe

Welcome to my personal blog by a curious American girl living and working between Zug, Switzerland and Florence, Italy with my husband Nico, our newborn Annabelle and Ginger the beagle. This space is primarily to share about my love for Italy (currently on a 13 year romance) with a fair amount of real talk, practical advice, travel suggestions and adjusting to a new culture (Switzerland). Find me on IG @girlinflorence @girlinzug

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