Oprah encounters racism in Switzerland, store attendant refuses to show billionaire US$38,000 bag
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 black handbag, telling one of the world's richest women that she "will not be able to afford" the $38,000 price tag.
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 US 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."
Swiss tourism officials and the boutique owner were quick to offer apologies on 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 per cent of Switzerland's 8 million residents are non-Swiss, and the country earned more than $39 billion from tourism in 2011.
However, Swiss authorities acknowledge that foreigners can encounter discrimination.
Last year, a government-appointed commission reported that immigrants and "people who visit Switzerland as tourists or who seek asylum here, and people of a different skin color" can encounter "xenophobia and racism in certain areas of life."
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