In most countries, everyone answers the phone with some variant of "Hello?" But in Italy, things are different. I touch on this topic in my book, How to Be an American in Italy, but since it is something that everyone will encounter when they move to Italy, I wanted to write a quick, free-to-read, to-the-point blog on it as well.
What do I Say When I Pick up the Phone in Italy?
Nowadays, most people have cell phones with a caller ID that lets you know who's calling. So, usually, there is no real need to answer the phone with the questioning "Hello?" we all usually use in America. We can just say, "Hi, Jen!" or "Ugh, you again, Bob?" But since we have been taught to answer the phone that way since we were toddlers playing with our chunky little red plastic phones, it is a hard habit to break.
Even harder to break is the habit of making assumptions that everyone does everything the same way we do in our own home country. You can't just translate our "hello" into "ciao" and answer the phone that way, because it isn't really customary — and it's a great way to reveal your secret identity as a non-Italian.
In Italy, you answer the phone with "Pronto", which means literally, "Ready." To us, it sounds a bit like how a military officer or a spy would answer the phone when they are about to receive a communique about a mission, but in Italy, it is perfectly normal. You answer this way if it's your mom calling (although some people do just start with "Hey, Ma" in this case) or the bank or even an unknown number.
Although the origins of pronto being used in this instance are a bit murky, it is thought to have originated in the era of switchboards and telephone operators. When someone would call someone else, the person operating the switchboard would have to connect the caller to the recipient. To make sure that the line was working and the recipient was ready to accept the call, the operator would ask "Pronto?" And the recipient would reply, "Pronto," signaling that they were set to take the call.
This tradition, like most things of this nature, stuck, and became a habit passed down over time. So now, whenever you call an Italian, expect to hear them say "pronto," which means simply that they are ready to listen to what you have to say.
What's your favorite way to answer the phone? Do you prefer "hello," "pronto," or something else entirely? Let me know in the comments below!