Oprah Winfrey claims Swiss racism over crocodile handbag
TV host says assistant refused to get €28,500 handbag for her because it was ‘too expensive’
Oprah Winfrey said she asked the sales assistant at the Trois Pommes store in Zurich to see a 35,000 Swiss franc (€28,500) crocodile handbag but was told that she would not be able to afford it. Photograph: AP Photo/Elise Amendola
US television host Oprah Winfrey has said she encountered racism in Switzerland last month when a sales assistant refused to show her a handbag because it was “too expensive”.
Winfrey, who is one of the richest women in the world, said she asked the sales assistant at the Trois Pommes store in Zurich to see a 35,000 Swiss franc (€28,500) crocodile handbag but was told that she would not be able to afford it.
“She refused to get it and she started showing me these other little bags,” Winfrey said.
The TV host said she asked three times to see the bag but each time was refused. “One more time I tried, I said ‘but I really do just want to see that one’,” but the sales assistant again declined by saying she did not want to “hurt my feelings”.
“I said, ‘Okay, thank you so much, you’re probably right, I can’t afford it,’ and I walked out of the store,” Winfrey said in an interview on the US television show Entertainment Tonight.
However, the store’s owner, Trudie Götz, said there was a misunderstanding and Winfrey was “absolutely allowed” to look at the bag.
“My salesperson, she wanted to give her the handbag in her hand but Mrs Oprah didn’t want to take it in her hand, she just wanted to look at the bag,” Ms Götz said in an interview with the BBC.
She denied the store had discriminated against Winfrey and attributed the incident to a communication mix-up, saying the sales assistant did not speak English as well as she spoke Italian.
“She tried to show Mrs Oprah the same style in other qualities because maybe she didn’t understand what she wanted,” Ms Götz said. “The sales girl really promised me that she did everything for [Winfrey].”
Ms Götz said her employee was not sure if it was Winfrey whom she was serving at the time. The Oprah Winfrey show is not shown in Switzerland.
Winfrey, who was recently named the world’s most powerful celebrity by Forbes magazine, was in Zurich last month to attend singer Tina Turner’s wedding.
The talk show host runs her own TV network and earned $77 million from June 2012 to June 2013, cementing the number one spot on Forbes’s annual ranking of 100 celebrities for the fifth time.
The incident comes in the midst of political disputes about plans by certain Swiss towns to ban asylum-seekers from some public places such as swimming pools, playing fields and libraries. The measures have been called xenophobic and likened to apartheid.
The Swiss tourism office said it was “never happy when our guests’ feelings are hurt”.