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Swiss Apologize To Oprah For Racist Treatment At Handbag Store

By Chuck Sudo in Arts & Entertainment on Aug 9, 2013 2:45PM

Larry Busacca/Getty Images
The Swiss tourism office offered a formal apology to Oprah Winfrey after the television mogul claimed she was a “victim of racism” in the historically neutral country.

Winfrey detailed her experience during an appearance on Entertainment Tonight earlier this week while promoting Lee Daniels’ The Butler, starring Winfrey and Forest Whitaker. Winfrey was in Switzerland for Tina Turner’s wedding and said a handbag caught her interest. But when she asked for a closer look at the $40,000 purse, the sales clerk demurred and said, “No. It’s too expensive.”

Winfrey could have broken out her smartphone and taken the “is it because I’m black?” route, but this is Oprah we’re talking about here. After asking a couple more times and being rebuffed each time, she said, “Okay, thank you so much. You're probably right, I can't afford it,” walked out of the store and waited until she sat down with Nancy O’Dell to put the shop on blast. (This is why she’s one of the world’s richest businesswomen.)

To be fair, Oprah Winfrey doesn’t have the profile in Switzerland she enjoys here and she even admitted her stature shields her from “blatant, open racial and sexual discrimination” in her daily life, but she cited the experience as an example that society has a ways to go to achieve racial tolerance.

"I could've had the whole blow-up thing and thrown down the black card, but why do that? But that clearly is, you know ... it (racism) still exists. Of course it does," Oprah told O'Dell.

Winfrey didn’t name the store but it was quickly revealed it was a chic boutique in Zurich’s exclusive shopping street Bahnhofstrasse called “Trois Pomme.” The shop’s owner, Trudie Goetz, apologized and said the clerk didn’t recognize Winfrey.

Swiss national tourism board spokeswoman Daniela Baer said Friday, "we are very sorry for what happened to her." Christian Trottmann, head of corporate communications for Zurich Tourism, called the incident "obviously very regrettable."