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My future father-in-law is originally from Ischia. When he answers the telephone he says, "Pronto" vs saying "Ciao" or "Hello". He told me that growing up that is how everyone answered the phone. I was curious if that was unique to Ischia/Naples or if it is customary across most of Italy to answer the phone with the greeting "Pronto!"

I was just curious because Pronto means ready, unless there is another translation that I'm not familiar with. I live in the United States and English is my first language and hi or hello is the typical phone greeting I grew up with. Is Pronto also just another way of saying "hi" in addition to saying ready?

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  • Out of curiosity: what makes you think that one would or should say Ciao or Hello?
    – DaG
    Jul 20 at 17:59
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    @DaG I added what I originally had as a comment to the question because I think it hopefully add more context. Thank you for asking me to clarify.
    – Rosie
    Jul 20 at 20:13
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    Just to confirm, I was married to an Italian lady for a few years. She, her friends and her family all answered 'Pronto' except in cases where caller ID told them it was a close friend or family member. Then they generally said "Amleto", "Ciao Amle'" or the like. Pronto seemed to be very much the default, when I asked about it I was told it essentially meant "Yep, I'm here and ready to listen, go ahead". I never worked there so can't speak for business/professional calls.
    – Chris
    Jul 21 at 6:42
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    When answering the phone, "pronto" is used exactly in its meaning of "ready" and indicated you are ready to speak. It is an habit dating back to when phone calls had to be connected manually by an operator, so the recipient had to signal in some way that s/he was on the line. Another common formula is "Pronto, [some form of identification]" (e.g. "casa Rossi" = "Rossi family" or "parla Mario" = "Mario is speaking"), so that the caller immediately know whether s/he dialed the correct number and reached the intended recipient.
    – secan
    Jul 21 at 11:02
  • Wasn't that pronto-iand-permesso thing even a running gag (which I enever considered funny) in one of those 1960 comedy movies (probably starring Jack Lemon)? Jul 21 at 12:27
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As far as I know, answering “Pronto” when accepting a phone call is the standard form since the beginning. Politeness requires that the caller identifies themselves after hearing “Pronto”. At least, this was the habit before caller ID.

However, some people used to answer giving their surname, mostly if they worked in some place where answering the phone was frequent and most calls were internal or filtered through operators.

It’s not a form of salutation: it’s just used at the telephone.

Answering “ciao” would not be considered polite, because one doesn't know who the caller is.

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  • thank you that is really interesting. Learning a new language from an app and books one doesn't get the context for Ciao only being used if you know who you are addressing.
    – Rosie
    Jul 20 at 20:22
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    I'll add that many people who grew up with landlines probably tend to still use “Pronto” on mobiles too (I do), but I believe that there is a growing trend, when using mobiles, towards greeting the caller in a more personal way: “Ciao, Mario” or “Scusa, Luigi, vado di fretta, dimmi” (Sorry, I'm in a hurry, tell me) and so on.
    – DaG
    Jul 20 at 21:12
  • @DaG I'm not sure what young people do when they answer to an unknown caller. Possibly “pronto” is going do disappear.
    – egreg
    Jul 20 at 21:20
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    I'm Italian, I always say "Pronto" (unless it's a cell phone and I know the caller...) but at the same time I've always wondered «WHY do we say "Pronto"?» … Jul 21 at 9:31
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    I guess that possibly it has to do with times when an operator had to make the connection (I had been there, thank you…) and you didn't know when the connection was actually made, so you kept repeating "Pronto?" to ask the other side if they were ready and "Pronto!" to tell them that you were on line, ready to speak. But it's just a guess. Jul 21 at 9:43
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Italian native here. "Pronto" is indeed the default, it works regardless of region, age range, or formality.

Some people answer the phone with their surname, especially on work calls, to which one can append a more formal greeting such as "buongiorno".

When answering on behalf of a company you would instead state the company's name (and then some courtesy formula such as "come posso aiutarla?" [how may I help you?]).

When you know who the caller is and it's a friend, you may answer directly with their name or with something informal like "ciao".

Pronto does mean ready, and it is not used as a greeting outside of phonecalls; the closest you can get is a sarcastic "pronto?!" akin to the English "hello?!" when someone is ignoring you or seems too distracted to pay attention to what you said to them.

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