"No. It's too expensive ... You will not be able to afford that," a Swiss sales attendant at the store Trois Pommes allegedly told Oprah Winfrey during the billionaire's most recent trip to Zurich, where she was attending Tina Turner's wedding.
The "too expensive" item in question? A $38,000 handbag—which would represent a tiny fraction of Winfrey's net worth ($2.8 billion). Winfrey explained (video below):
"I was in Zurich the other day, in a store whose name I will not mention. I didn't have my eyelashes on, but I was in full Oprah Winfrey gear ...I go into a store and I say to the woman, 'Excuse me, may I see the bag right above your head?' and she says to me, 'No. It's too expensive.'"
This is not the first time the African-American media mogul — and the world's most powerful celebrity, according to Forbes — has faced discrimination while traveling abroad. In 2005, there was a similar incident in Paris, with Winfrey not allowed to shop at Hermès because she apparently got to the store shortly after closing and the store owners did not open the doors for her. There were suggestions that this was due to the French simply not recognizing her, but some argued that Oprah was denied entry because of her race and that the store would have opened doors for a white celebrity.
But in the Zurich incident, Winfrey was already in the door and shopping. When Winfrey asked to see the handbag again, she says she was told:
"No, no you don’t want to see that one, you want to see this one because that one will cost too much. You will not be able to afford that."
As the BBC points out, the sales girl likely did not recognize Winfrey, whose media presence in the Alp-enclosed country is pretty much nil. Okay, so that explains the interaction a tiny bit. But the saleswoman was still rude and pretty obviously prejudicial. Winfrey says she left the store without buying anything, as the saleswoman would have made a commission off of her purchases.She also says she "wanted to create a Pretty Woman moment and come back and buy everything and say, 'Big mistake!'"
According to AFP, the whole thing is being described by Trudie Goetz, a spokeswoman for Trois Pommes, as "a misunderstanding":
[Goetz] denied her saleswoman had ever sought to stop Winfrey buying the bag.
"Everyone wants to sell a crocodile bag," Goetz told AFP...adding that the saleswoman always put the customer first and tried to be "too kind".
"She explained how beautiful the bag was, then she said, 'Honestly this bag costs 35,000 Swiss francs, but I can show you other versions in ostrich, in pure leather and in velour'," Goetz said.
According to AFP, the saleswoman will not be disciplined.
Well, considering that Switzerland has faced serious criticism for its onerous asylum laws, an insensitive incident like this doesn't help the nation's image. Accordingly, the Swiss tourism board has already issued Winfrey an apology, telling The Associated Press, "we are very sorry for what happened to her."
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.