Racism toward Oprah costs Swiss shop $40,000

In a revealing incident, a shop clerk who didn't recognize Winfrey assumed the ultra-wealthy star couldn't afford a pricey handbag.

By Jason Notte Aug 9, 2013 3:07PM
File photo of Oprah Winfrey on October 25, 2012 (© Ray Tamarra/Getty Images)Small-business owners, take note: This is where racism and an overall ignorance of the surrounding world gets you.

Oprah Winfrey made $77 million in the first six months of 2013 alone, according to Forbes. She has a net worth of $2.8 billion, her own radio, TV and print media empire, and gave $105 million to her Leadership Academy For Girls. It's safe to say that she can afford any handbag ever produced.

A shop assistant in Zurich disagreed. As Winfrey told Entertainment Tonight, when she was in Switzerland attending Tina Turner's wedding last month, she popped into a high-end boutique and saw a $40,000 handbag she liked. The assistant apparently glanced at Winfrey in her Donna Karan skirt and sandals and decided she didn't meet the store's financial requirements.

"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.'"

Winfrey facetiously agreed and walked out of the store without incident.

"There's two different ways to handle it. I could've had the whole blow-up thing ... but [racism] still exists, of course it does," she told ET.

Blick newspaper reported that Trudie Goetz, the owner of the boutique Winfrey was talking about, had apologized for the incident and called it a "misunderstanding." Then again, Goetz also blamed it on the fact that the employee is Italian and doesn't speak English very well.

That highlights a far bigger problem in Switzerland right now, with Winfrey getting the least of its fallout. The country is in the midst of a harsh political battle over some Swiss towns wanting to ban asylum-seekers from using public places such as school playgrounds, swimming pools and libraries. Human rights have criticized this as intolerance and racist on par with apartheid.

It has, however, drawn attention to the fact that Switzerland hosts almost double the number of asylum-seekers per capita as its European neighbors. It houses one refugee for every 332 inhabitants, compared to one per 625 inhabitants on the rest of the continent. Some 48,000 refugees are seeking asylum in Switzerland.

In June, voters overwhelmingly backed a referendum to tighten asylum restrictions. The right-wing Swiss People’s Party, meanwhile, has consistently declared that the country is being inundated with refugees. That has created a less-than-hospitable environment for anyone looking decidedly non-Swiss. It's also an incredibly costly situation for those refusing their business.

More on moneyNOW

Aug 11, 2013 9:33AM
It comes down to something as simple as this. The customer has no color,religion,sex,nationality. A customer is a customer. I had an experience as a part-time salesperson many years ago. A man comes in and was browsing the electronics dept I was helping to tend. The salesperson ignores him because his boots were dirty with mud and the bottoms of his pants were filthy. Embarrassed by the fact he was being ignored, I asked if I could help him. He asks to see the flat screens, I show him a few and the guy buys 6 of them!!! Surprise,surprise. The guy was an engineer who had just finished a new home and was furnishing it. He wanted them for different areas of the home. I got a great commision, the other salesperson was pissed and I was just treating the guy with respect. Go figure... We can't judge people by the way they look. It's that simple. Business is business. What your personal hangups are have no place in business.
Aug 9, 2013 4:40PM

I'm a small blonde white woman.  I've had the same experience a couple of times.  I wouldn't know that Oprah's experience was because of her race.

Aug 9, 2013 6:17PM
I wonder why they ASSUMED she could not afford it, and dissuaded her?  -- Nah, never mind. I don't think that could imply racism at all... I mean, it is in the store to sell to people right? 
Aug 9, 2013 4:12PM
Seriously?  Not even in this country and we're gonna make a stink???  Where in her comment was the racism???  Are we ASSUMING that it was her color that led the sales associate to tell her it was too expensive??  I'd bet even money ANY american walking in that shop dresses as she was would have garnered the same response.
Anything to stir the pot I guess, lord knows there enough ignorant people out there that will let this get them all riled up about racism... Shame on you Oprah, definitely NOT a class act for spewing this as an act of racism!!!!  Shame on MSN for the absolute worst, most hate mongering and most one sided reporting known to exist....
Aug 9, 2013 5:49PM
Also Switzerland does not broadcast the Oprah programme, so most people may not know who she is.
Aug 10, 2013 4:59PM
Same thing happened to Ohpra several years ago in Paris...she knocked on the door of Hermes (yes, they keep the door locked) and they would not let her in.  She left and told the news about it....same story.  I got in when I knocked and still have that great perfume. 
Aug 9, 2013 4:58PM
Oprah's reaction is both amazing and self-serving. A woman who has been made a mutli-billionaire by white society, given a life-style unattainable and unimaginable by 99.9999% of all whites since the dawn of time - yet, she still has to complain. How many white Americans can jet off to Switzerland to shop at outrageously expensive stores? Oprah's entire career is a feeding off of white civilization. This "proud" black does not go to Africa to shop. Or to live. She is conveniently blind to how parasitic her entire existence has been on the white world. Libs who support her are merely enablers for her sort of racial pathology. The less bright of the youth are sold this ideology wholesale in the schools, emerging not as educated citizens who think for themselves but as politically correct drones. After so much of this, it isn't just America but the western world that is in serious trouble and its future in question.
Aug 9, 2013 6:33PM
If you have a business, and a customer comes in they should be allowed to look at any item that is for sale.  I do not care if you are white, jet blue or purple all people should think about the outcome they are hoping to achieve with their behaviors.  Personally if I had over a billion dollars, and I earned it by the good ole capitalist ways America constantly lauds I'd buy whatever the hell I wanted to, regardless of whose country I happened to be in.  Perhaps if American manufacturing were better she would spend her money here; oh yeah, I didn't forget, most quality American manufacturing has been outsourced.   
Aug 9, 2013 4:30PM
The best way to end racism is by being successful and having class.  Congratulations on being an example of both Ms. Winfrey!
Aug 9, 2013 5:38PM
I don't know anything about handbags, but if I had a handbag on a shelf that cost 40k, I'm not going to hand it over to anyone I don't know.  Is that racism?  If you want to see it, lay down your credit card or show some ID first.  I guess it's easier to use the race card...
Aug 9, 2013 5:45PM
Switzerland has Italian, French and German as official languages, not English so the assistant should not have a need beyond knowing basic English to speak it.
Aug 9, 2013 7:09PM
It cost the store owner at least $20,000 and a reputation as an uptight racist bitch.  What more could Oprah ask?
Aug 11, 2013 11:14AM
Any one that would buy a $40k bag should really live in poverty....for just one year...
Aug 12, 2013 2:22AM

I do not feel sorry for someone spending 40000 on a purse when there are people starving or homeless  

Aug 11, 2013 1:21PM
Has anyone else considered the fact that people from other countries don't know every American celebrity? But nope, it's always the race card, it can never be an honest mistake made by a clerk who doesn't speak english very well and isn't from America. She's right racism does still exist, except Oprah's a racist herself. Instead of considering all the facts, she just instantly assumes it was racist
Aug 12, 2013 7:58AM
did not have a darn thing to do with  race  this women  and shaprton and jackson  are putting the american people  back 50 years well obomas wife included with this race issue . remember  opera did not really  get high  rating  until she  gave  away  cars  one  day.  its a shame  to watch  these  people  destroy  america the girl was stating a fact  the purse was expensive  39000 would go a long  way  feeding  neady  people  remember  when she  built the school in Africa  she was asked  why she did not do it in the  usa  she said the people in the usa  would not appreciate  it  ????
Aug 9, 2013 7:13PM
Perfect comparison Is Turner gill.  Nearly identical situation.
Aug 10, 2013 5:28PM

How amusing...don't judge me by my color - just judge me by my income.... so you must treat me better than everyone else....hmmm. Perhaps they just didn't like her. Perhaps she acted all pretentious (due to her status at her bank) and the teller didn't like that- MAYBE she just didn't like HER. Guess what, the only people that feel guilty about something that happened many years ago...to people that are no longer living... is Americans....so, I guess we aren't all that racist after all.

Progress is just that, steps into the right direction - people have died to get what we have now, all we do is bitch that it isn't enough. What have ANY of us actively done to change this??? Other than continuous finger pointing, complaining and attitude. Let's just move on...

Aug 10, 2013 9:12AM
Come on Oprah, you have no clue how average American families live on a daily basis. You have no business sticking your nose in politics and condemning people who do not support Obama Care since you have no idea how much $300 extra a month can hurt a family who makes an average income---obviously if you can afford $40,000 purses. You are just insulted that maybe somebody didn't know who you were! It's not racism. I would have gotten the same treatment if I walked in there being a white woman of Italian heritage. 
Aug 10, 2013 10:48AM
Unfortunately- - racism is the only ''card'' some can play today! And of course, there is ''always  ''two'' sides to any story- - the other side which I have heard totally negates any racism toward the ''fat'' lady! This country is so far from what it was just five years ago- - it is almost unrecognizable- - you know- - ''BEFORE'' we were going to transcend all prejudice and hatred! As the story goes- - OPRAH could not wait to get out of the shop and find a microphone. Something akin to Harry Reed two days ago suggesting that he ''hopes the republican fight over OBAMACARE is based on substance and not on the COLOR of OBAMA''! ! ! !  SERIOUSLY? ? ? ? In Harry's case- - he is defining race baiting in terms that would make Al Sharpton blush; in Oprah's case she is soooo rich she could buy the entire handbag company - - -not bad for a woman of color in todays world- - - kind of makes you SICK we as a nation have hit such a new LOW! ! ! !
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