I was recently asked this question on Facebook, and thought it deserved a proper response.
The obvious answer is 'friends'. The more frivolous answer would be 'beer', but it's surprising how quickly the human body can adapt to a diet of spritzes and vino sfuso. I'm not sure if we miss the food or not. Whenever we return to the UK, we try and cross off those things we can't get in Italy - fish and chips, pies, Indian and Chinese food. But somehow fish and chips is never quite as nice as you remember and - after a week of Trad British Staples - we're usually ready for Italian food again. It feels like detoxing. We would like to find a decent Indian or Chinese restaurant over here though.
There are some aspects of our cultural life that we miss (I really did try not to use the phrase, "our cultural life" but it seemed unavoidable. Please feel free to report me to Pseud's Corner in Private Eye). We used to go to the theatre on an almost weekly basis. We don't do that anymore. Maybe we should persevere at the Teatro Goldoni. We used to go to an art event or an opening almost every week - again, we don't do that anymore, although the Biennale kind of makes up to it.
Italian television isn't up to much, but nearly everything we want to watch is available in various degrees of legality. And I think I might even prefer RAI3 to Radio 3.
I don't go to as many concerts as I used to. On the other hand, I take part in more, which seems like a fair exchange. But there is one thing I miss more than anything else. I used to love going to the opera, whether it was Scottish Opera at home in Edinburgh, or travelling down to see WNO in Cardiff. Ten pounds would buy you a perfectly good seat with an unrestricted view. Fifty quid would get you the best seat in the house. That is not the case over here. We saw a pretty good Madama Butterfly at La Fenice last year. Well-enough played and sung, and the set was beautifully designed. Or rather, what we could see of the set seemed to be beautifully designed. The cost was 85 euros. At that sort of price, a visit has to be a very occasional treat. So we find ourselves living five minutes walk from an opera house, something that would once have been my dream, and yet we rarely go there.
So there we have it - completely against my expectations, the thing I most miss about living in Italy is...the opera. You have to appreciate the irony, at least!