Before we moved to Zürich, I read up on the possible ways I could make a faux pas in Switzerland. I was ready to be chided and reprimanded by neighbors, people on the tram, and I hoped not by the Police. Well, with still a few months to go, I still have the chance to make a fool of myself; we’ll see.
We did NOT, however, read up on Italian etiquette. We’d been before, so we thought we were good to go.
So, there seem to be actually unwritten rules in Italy, and now you can learn from our experience. First of all, do not sit on the steps of the Carabinieri (military police) office to eat your lunch. And don’t pull out an apple in Pompeii and sit on a side step to quell your hunger pangs. You will be told where it is OK to eat, but it won’t be there. In Pompeii you will be told disdainfully that we are trying to treat the site as a museum. I totally understand that, but it had not been clear to us exactly where we were supposed to eat.
In Italian restaurants, there may not be a host/hostess to seat you, but please do not sit where you want to, and, especially, do not sit down at an empty table if it has not been properly cleared and reset. I wanted sometimes to lay claim to a table because there didn’t appear to be a way to make sure you, who were there first, got a table. In the end, we always ended up with a table and service.
In Switzerland you do not need to have reservations to ride a train. You can buy them, if you want to, or if you are traveling in a group, but it is not mandatory. In Italy you must have a reservation to ride the fast train. There are no fast trains in Switzerland. (There are trains with fewer stops, but they never get as fast as Italian or French trains.)
Of course, there are extremely slow trains in Italy, too. These could make for some interesting Relativity experiments, if you were so inclined.