Oprah Winfrey Encounters Racism in Switzerland

Shop owner calls the incident a “misunderstanding”

Oprah Winfrey

Oprah Winfrey, one of the richest women in the world, revealed how a shop assistant refused to let her look at an expensive handbag in a shop in Zurich, Switzerland, because it was “too expensive”.  This comes amidst recent reports of race relations as a very hot topic in Switzerland.

Whilst visiting the city last month to attend her friend Tina Turner’s wedding, Ms Winfrey decided to step out of her hotel and pop into the upmarket Trois Pommes boutique, where she spotted a $38,000 handbag.  Oprah told Entertainment Tonight, “I didn’t have my eyelashes on, but I was in full Oprah Winfrey gear.  I had my little Donna Karan skirt and my little sandals.  But obviously ‘The Oprah Winfrey Show’ is not shown in Zurich.”  When she asked the shop assistant to see the ‘Jennifer’ bag in crocodile skin, designed by American designer Tom Ford for actress, Jennifer Aniston, Ms Winfrey was promptly told, “No, it’s too expensive.”

Ms Winfrey asked again to see the bag and was refused by the woman, who had suggested she looked at cheaper bags.  “You will not be able to afford that,” was the assistant’s response.

On asking a third time to see the bag, the shop assistant told Ms Winfrey that she didn’t want to hurt her feelings.  At this point, the highly influential African-American, whose estimated personal worth is valued at nearly $3bn, and who could have bought the entire shop, replied, “Okay, thank you so much, you’re probably right, I can’t afford it,” and she politely left the store.

Ms Winfrey said later “I could have had the big blow up thing and thrown down the black card and all that, but why do that?”  The owner of Trois Pommes, Trudie Goetz, who also happened to be a guest at Ms Turner’s wedding, said that it had all been a ‘misunderstanding’ because her shop assistant failed to recognise whom Ms Winfrey was.  Ms Goetz, who stood by her assistant, saw no reason to dismiss her and denied the racism snub.  Goetz, having faced much publicity at her shop in line with the country’s on-going public relations disaster, later did a U-turn and said that if she saw Ms Winfrey, she would want to “give her a huge hug”.  But Markus Hünig, president of the Zurich Bahnhofstrasse Association, of the street where the boutique is situated, said the assistant’s conduct was “completely unacceptable”.  The head of corporate communications for Zurich Tourism, Christian Trottmann, was also reported to say that the incident was “obviously very regrettable.”

The recent claims come amidst a political row over plans by some Swiss towns to ban asylum-seekers from public places, such as swimming pools, playing fields and libraries, with plans to house them in special centres.  Human rights groups have likened the curbs to apartheid.

By Brucella Newman


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