Oprah Winfrey 'racism row' a 'misunderstanding'

10.08.2013 04:30

The owner of a shop in Zurich where
US talk show host Oprah Winfrey says
she encountered racism has called
the incident a "misunderstanding".
Winfrey, one of the world's richest
women, claimed an assistant refused to
serve her in an upmarket handbag shop.
She was apparently told one of the bags
on display was "too expensive" for her.
Shop owner Trudie Gotz told the BBC
that Winfrey was "absolutely allowed" to
look at the $35,000 (£22,500) bag,
which was kept behind a screen.
"My salesperson wanted to give her the
handbag in her hand. But she didn't
want to take the bag," claimed Gotz.
She said her assistant had worked in the
Trois Pommes store "for a few years and
takes care of the most spoilt customers
from all over the world", adding, "she is
really a correct sales person".
'Didn't understand'
Winfrey, who stars in Lee Daniels' new
film The Butler, visited Zurich last month
to attend singer Tina Turner's wedding.
Her programme The Oprah Winfrey
Show is not shown in Switzerland.
Speaking to US TV show Entertainment
Tonight , she said: "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.'"
The star made an estimated $77m last year
When Winfrey insisted, the shop assistant
allegedly replied: "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."
The star said she left the shop calmly
without arguing, but that the experience
was proof that racism continues to be a
problem.
"There's two different ways to handle it,"
she said.
"I could've had the whole blow-up
thing... but it still exists, of course it
does."
Ms Gotz did not call into question
Winfrey's perception of the events.
"I didn't take care of [Winfrey]. I'm sure
she felt like this - but my salesgirl
promised me she took care of [her]
really the best she could. So it must have
been a misunderstanding," she said.
Ms Gotz said her assistant spoke both
Italian and English, "but her English isn't
as good".
"She tried to show Mrs Oprah the same
style in other qualities, because maybe
she didn't understand what she wanted."
Winfrey's claims come amid a political
row over plans by some Swiss towns to
ban asylum-seekers from some public
places.
The BBC's Imogen Foulkes in Berne says
human rights groups have likened the
plans - which include banning asylum-
seekers from swimming pools, playing
fields and libraries - to apartheid.
Officials say the curbs, which will also
see asylum-seekers housed in special
centres, are aimed at preventing tensions
with residents.
About 48,000 people are currently
seeking asylum in Switzerland. It has
twice as many asylum seekers as the
European average.
Winfrey's interview is a public relations
disaster for Switzerland, our
correspondent says.