GENEVA (AP) — It’s a glamorous playground of the rich and famous, filled with glitterati from princes to movie stars. It’s also a land with a sometimes uneasy relationship with foreigners — especially when they aren’t white.

Billionaire media mogul Oprah Winfrey says she ran into Swiss racism when a clerk at Trois Pommes, a pricey Zurich boutique, refused to show her a $38,000 handbag, telling one of the world’s richest women that she wouldn’t be able to afford it. Winfrey earned $77 million in the year ending in June, according to Forbes magazine.

“She said: ‘No, 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,'” Winfrey, appearing on the U.S. television program “Entertainment Tonight,” quoted the clerk as saying. “And I said, ‘Well, I did really want to see that one.’ And she refused to get it.”

She brought up the incident during an interview about her new movie, “Lee Daniels’ The Butler,” which opens next week and focuses on civil rights and race relations in the U.S. She was asked to open up about her own experiences with discrimination.

Swiss tourism officials and the boutique owner were quick to offer apologies Friday.

“We are very sorry for what happened to her, of course, because we think all of our guests and clients should be treated respectfully, in a professional way,” Daniela Baer, a spokeswoman for the Swiss tourism office, told The Associated Press.

The tourism office also posted an apology on Twitter, saying, “This person acted terribly wrong.”

Boutique owner Trudie Goetz told the BBC that an assistant had shown Winfrey several other items before the “misunderstanding.”

The newspaper Blick described the bag as a crocodile-leather Tom Ford design named for actress Jennifer Aniston, a fan of the American designer. It quoted Goetz as saying the bag was priced at 35,000 Swiss francs.

“I have to admit that the employee is Italian. Of course, she speaks English, but not as well as her mother tongue,” Goetz said in a video interview on Blick’s website. “It was a real misunderstanding.”

Winfrey was in Switzerland to attend the wedding of her longtime friend Tina Turner, who has lived in Zurich for many years and has been quoted saying how much she enjoys living among the Swiss. Turner was granted a passport earlier this year, a process that typically takes years.

About 23 percent of Switzerland’s 8 million residents are non-Swiss, and the country earned more than $39 billion from tourism in 2011.

Last year, though, a government-appointed commission reported that immigrants, tourists, asylum-seekers and “people of a different skin color” can encounter “xenophobia and racism in certain areas of life.”

The nationalistic Swiss People’s Party, which has the largest number of seats in the federal parliament, has won support through claims that immigrants can bring crime and social problems to a country that has been an oasis of stability even in Europe’s darkest days.

In recent years, the People’s Party has successfully campaigned to ban the construction of minarets in a country that has about 400,000 Muslims, and to tighten the nation’s asylum law. Swiss lawmakers also narrowly rejected a proposal to ban veils worn by some Muslim women in public.

And this week, a row broke out over plans to bar asylum-seekers living in the small town of Bremgarten from visiting public swimming pools and attending schools.

Human Rights Watch said the agreement by the Swiss migration office to let the town impose “house rules” to limit access to schools and sports facilities violates international law.

It wasn’t the first time Winfrey has taken issue with treatment at a ritzy European boutique. In 2005, she was turned away from a Hermes shop in Paris 15 minutes after closing time. The store said it was closed for a private event.

A Hermes executive appeared on Winfrey’s talk show to apologize for the “rigid and rude” behavior of the employee. Winfrey complimented Hermes on its response — including sensitivity training for employees — and urged viewers to buy the company’s products.

In “The Butler,” Winfrey plays the wife of a butler who is a witness to history, from the cotton fields of Georgia to the White House. It is based loosely on the career of Eugene Allen, a black man who served as a White House butler from the Eisenhower through Reagan administrations.

During the TV interview, Winfrey said that “true racism is about being able to have power over somebody else,” and that she sometimes encounters it along with sexism in boardrooms. Then she recounted the incident in Zurich while she went shopping alone.

“Obviously, ‘The Oprah Winfrey Show’ is not shown in Zurich. So this doesn’t happen to me unless somebody obviously doesn’t know that it’s me,” she said.

A spokesman for Zurich’s tourist office, Christian Trottmann, called the incident “very regrettable” and said it obviously hurts the image of a friendly, world-class city accustomed to different cultures.

“We are inviting her to come back to Zurich and have fun here,” he said, “so she can see how open-minded this city really is.”

(Photo: AP)

19 thoughts on “Swiss Apologize For Encounter Oprah Calls Racist

  1. I think that Oprah missed one of her AH HA moments. She walked out of the store without saying anything to the clerk that made her feel discriminated against. She missed a very teachable moment that would have been blogged around the world. Why did you leave, Oprah, without saying anything? She didn’t need to know who you were. She just needed a lesson in manners!

  2. Rayar Johnson on said:

    August 12,2013

    Please, Please Help us! In the February 14,2013 Wayne County Newspaper,( Front Page) It tells of the school violations and bullying and harassment my children have suffered in the WCSD,Mississippi. But, it did not mention that the latest of those threats were from the school KKK note. Now, this same girl where two knifes were found on her is back at school and sitting behind my child on their bus.
    This is not the first racial discrimination . My kids have a right to a safe school environment.
    The WCSD said they would handle it and they would prosecute and she would not be back on that campus. They would not tell me one court date no notification, just it’s been handled. 911 did not even send an officer at my request the day of.
    The children are shocked and scared. I beg for justice. I do not know why help for justice is so hard. They are not going back to school until they are represented. This is sad that anyone would think we are okay with this.

  3. The bigger issue for me is what kind of purse is worth $38,000? It wasn’t made of gold….so what justifies the price? I don’t know of a purse on earth worth thousands. I know people with Oprah’s money status (Billionaire) can afford it; but what purse is REALLY worth that amount of money. Generally speaking I think that a lot of people are so gullible, and materialistic

  4. Ginny: Read RL’s lips. How many black businesses have you supported? Overall I do think that a lot (not all) but a lot of black people are more consumers than savers/investors. I’ve had several people tell me that they couldn’t afford to invest in their 401K at work. Duuuuuh I say we can’t afford not to invest in a 401K. Obviously these are people that are not well informed. Why would anyone in their right mind not invest in something that’s going to match 50 cents to a dollar on your personal investment. For some reason SOME black people put more value on a pair of sneakers, or a purse than value on true investment such as a 401K, or even investing in your favorite sneaker’s stock, or your favorite beverage’s stock.

  5. World O on said:

    Black folks need to stop equating reaction to racism. Oprah is hugely wealthy and can create a storm if she feels she has been mistreated anywhere, especially if she perceives “racism” in a foreign European land. Neither European incidents she encountered warrant using racism as the cause. Oprah forgets that she is American, and Europe is a different cultural place. One “bad” person should not be judgement for a whole group of people or a nation. We should know this! But again we fall for the emotional instead of the reasoning. Oprah’s success and fortunes were made on those very heart strings of emotions. Black folks need to understand that Europeans can be rude and not be racist. Oprah, stop playing victim, go meet some real Europeans who are not wealthy like you, and do some reading on their culture!

    • World: And what heart strings are you referring to? Heart strings because people like a show with interesting topics? The old Oprah show offered a wide range of topics. Her newer network shows may not appeal to everyone, but the shows to appeal to a lot of people. Go Oprah

    • World: I think Oprah’s first incident was more predicated on the fact that the store was closed for a private showing, and Oprah happened to show up at that time. The 2nd incident is questionable, and can definitely be interpreted as the sales person looking at Oprah on the surface, and thinking this black woman can’t remotely afford a $38,000 purse. But then…..the average person can’t afford a $38,000 purse

  6. Honestly on said:

    Cave n!@@ers in America and in Europe, they share the same depraved indifference to black life. Oprah has twice had racism come down on her in Europe. The incident in France where she had the door slammed in her face and locked, barring her form entering this so called exclusive boutique. Oprah is now further disrespected by being denied service and told you couldn’t afforded it. Brothers and Sisters leave these mayonnaise monkeys to themselves. They should have never been let out of the caves of Europe.

  7. The WHITE PEOPLE are going off on her on her website for alerting the world about how she was treated at the store. The fact is, Oprah catered to the white race on the Oprah Show and know she’s allowing the world to know that racism still exist with the white culture.

    • Indy: All ethnic groups watched Oprah when she had her show for 25 years. Black, white, brown, and yellow. Her show was successful because she covered a wide range of topics that every one could relate to. I for one ain’t mad at her for her success, nor her huge bankroll. Go Oprah!! And besides….no one was forced to watch her show. People watch what they want to

  8. No No the misunderstanding is the fact that they messed with the wrong Black woman. The apologies are to my understanding, that darn it we messed up big time, and this publicity could ruin us for a long time. This is why I like to say, when anyone decides they want to treat a person unkindly think long and hard, if that is really what you want to do. Because once you make that decision which is always a choice, there is know turning back, not even on your apology.

    • Paula: So you’re telling Oprah how to spend her money? Oprah has given away millions including putting 400, or more young black men through college. Does anyone tell you how to distribute your money? If so, I’m sure you’ve told them where to go

  9. Paula Diane on said:

    Why is Tom doing a family reunion in Florida!? They are killing us there? Tom what the hell! You are selling out big time. Boycotts work! You should know better! You can’t tell me you can do this somewhere else? Whose paying you?!

    • lol….you funny! Sure boycott and Florida jumps the gun and starts laying folks off. Who do you think they gonna lay off first??? You going to pay these folks bills who have no authority on changing the laws??? get off your ass in vote not just in the presidential election but local city wide elections and especially statewide elections. Damn boycott doesn’t change the laws! SC has had a boycott for 10 years…damn flag still flying high on the capital building.

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