I’m a words person, always have been, always will be. I am fortunate to have been born with an eye and a mind for correct spelling—I can spot a mistake from a distance and often intervene by wielding a red pen. As I’ve become bilingual, this skill has carried over into Italian, too. But there’s a fly in the proverbial (pun intended) ointment, and it happens wherever I have to spell out my name in Italian over the phone.
Not that it’s all bad; my surname has two sets of double letters in it. But, under pressure—like a typical wordy introvert, I loathe speaking on the phone anyway—my efforts to spell out my name verge on the theatre of the absurd. ‘Allora, F come in Forlì.’ Why? When I spend most of my waking hours in Florence. ‘A come in abaco.’ I am by no means a closet accountant. ‘R come in Ravenna.’ More logical perhaps, given it is Dante’s final resting place and my degree in literature. ‘Oh, un’altra “R” per, um, Roma.’ Finally, I’m getting the hang of it, I think to myself. ‘E per Empoli.’ Yes, now I’m on a roll. ‘E poi, due “L” come in ‘lunchbox.’ Maybe not. The point is, the Italian phonetic alphabet is there to help, not to hinder, but we expats manage to conjure up our own earnest and downright hilarious interpretations. Hardly a single phone call in The Florentine office is held without someone coming up with a whole new spin on spelling in Italian. ‘M’ for monkey, anyone?
After years of laughing in the office, we figured it would be wise to get that alphabet down once and for all, so we teamed up with Kirsten Hills (www.hillsfilms.com) and a language school – Centro di Cultura e Formazione di Firenze, in piazza Santo Spirito – to make the following video.