Shazia Mirza’s Weekend Column

I am in New York. I just arrived for a meeting with a publisher, who walked in and said, “I’m so sorry I’m late, it’s been a hectic…”Then she paused and said, “It’s been a hectic four months. My mother died three months ago, I have no brothers and sisters, no relatives, and now it’s my dad. He’s in hospital and I’m just not happy with the people who work there.” She continued: “I know we all haveto go through this. My dad is 83 and I think he’s going to be next.” She paused again and said, “Sorry to dump this on you. Now,tell me a bit about yourself.”

Last night I travelled to do a show in Watchung, New Jersey, with two American women, one of whom I had never met. As soon as I got in the car, they began a conversation.

Sharon said, “I’m feeling like Ican’t cope at the moment. I’m working, moving house, dating, trying to lose weight – it’s just too much for me. I met a man six weeks ago and I’m moving in with him.”

“Where did you meet him?” I asked.

“On the internet – on JDate, a site for Jewish people. I just want to be married. He’s intelligent, and he’s cute” – she shows me a picture of him on her iPhone – “but I’m not sure if I love him or hate him. I need Ben!”

“Who’s Ben?” I asked.

“He’s my shrink.”

In response to my incredulous expression, she said, “I know this must be weird for you, because you’re British and you don’t have shrinks, do you? You just moan to strangers on a bus.”

America is one big waiting room. Most people are waiting to see a shrink, or are on the way to a shrink, or are coming back from a shrink. A decision can’t be made without consulting their psychic or their psychiatrist.

The people I’ve met are like BT: they outsource their decision-making process. Soon, people in India will be solving Sharon’s sex problems. Call centres will be made up of rows and rows of therapists with webcams.

People will call and say, “What should I do about this new boyfriend?” Call-centre therapists will reply, “Have you tried unplugging him and plugging him back in?”

While waiting to get on the plane back home from New York, a friend and I went to McDonald’s. On the next table, a young Asian man with a long beard and black sports holdall sat down and started reading the Qur’an. I turned to my friend and jokingly said, “Ihope he’s not on our flight!”

All flights departed and he remained seated. We then realised he was on our flight. For a moment I did feel nervous. Beard, holdall, Qur’an – it’s not a great look at an airport.

We boarded the flight with the man walking behind us. An American white male, about 35 years old, looked like he was going to cry. He stared the man in the face with horror, taking deep breaths. I had the pleasure ofsitting behind this nervous American. As the bearded man took his seat further back, the American stood up. He was staring at the holdall and muttering, “No, no, please, no.”

I could see the wheels turning in his head. He had a dilemma. What’s worse? Being blown up by a terrorist, or having to make a decision without his shrink? Five minutes before take off, he got up and tried to open the overhead locker, while the cabin crew shouted, “Please sit down, sir, we are about to take off!” He wasforced into his seat and spent the rest of the flight listening to classical music – obviously looking for a requiem.

We all got off the flight alive. I pointed at the bearded man and said to the nervous American, “If Iwas going to blow up this flight, that’s not the sort of look I’d go for.”