Family ejected from Paris museum because of 'their smell'

France’s culture minister has described as “regrettable” an incident in which a poor family were thrown out of one of Paris’s…

France’s culture minister has described as “regrettable” an incident in which a poor family were thrown out of one of Paris’s most popular museums because “their smell” was annoying other visitors.

The couple and their 12-year-old son were visiting the Musée d’Orsay last Saturday with a volunteer from a charity that organises social outings for hard-up families when they were told to leave.

They had visited several rooms and had lunch in the museum’s restaurant before being approached in the gallery dedicated to Van Gogh.

A security guard asked them to leave because “visitors were complaining about their smell”, the volunteer from the ATD-Quart Monde charity told Le Figaro. He refused the request, saying they were properly dressed and were doing no harm.


Escorted out

The family then moved to the less busy art nouveau rooms, where they were surrounded by four guards and escorted to the door. The volunteer did not make a scene, his association said, because “he didn’t want to add to the family’s humiliation”.

With the story provoking debate on discrimination against the poor, culture minister Aurélie Filippetti said the incident was “regrettable” and asked the Musée d’Orsay for a report on what happened.

ATD-Quart Monde lodged a formal complaint with the museum. Typhaine Cornacchiari, a spokeswoman for the charity, said the incident showed “what poor people suffer every day ... When poverty shows on one’s face, one is treated differently.”

“The women who smell very strongly of perfume, we don’t ask them to leave.”

Since taking office last year, Ms Filippetti has often argued that culture can be a way of fighting against inequality. Her ministry has recently been promoting its efforts to widen the social make-up of visitors to France’s museums.

Angelina Infanti, who is responsible for the Musée d’Orsay social outreach initiatives, said it had invested a lot in this area and worked directly with groups for the needy to organise more than 140 group visits a year.

Ruadhán Mac Cormaic

Ruadhán Mac Cormaic

Ruadhán Mac Cormaic is the Editor of The Irish Times