It’s a classic case of he-said, she-said: After Oprah Winfrey claimed she encountered racism at a Swiss luxury goods store, the store in question has fired back, calling the whole situation a “misunderstanding.”
When Winfrey visited a Trois Pommes boutique in Zurich last month, she claimed a saleswoman refused to show her a $38,000 crocodile bag, telling her the bag was “too expensive.” Winfrey said the incident demonstrated that racism was still a problem, but the store’s owner, Trudie Goetz, claimed the entire situation was based on a “misunderstanding” due to language difficulties. Furthermore, the owner said that the saleswoman failed to recognize Winfrey and never tried to stop her from buying the bag.
The whole incident has resulted in Switzerland’s national tourism board issuing a direct apology for the situation, saying the actions of the saleswoman had been “terribly wrong,” but Goetz insists it was all an innocent mix-up. “My salesperson wanted to give her the handbag in her hand. But she didn’t want to take the bag,” Goetz told Reuters. “Her English isn’t as good as her Italian so it must have been a misunderstanding. Everyone wants to sell a crocodile bag. She explained how beautiful the bag was, then she said, ‘Honestly this bag costs 35,000 Swiss francs, but I can show you other versions in ostrich, in pure leather and in velour.'”
Winfrey’s version of the encounter varies from Goetz’s. “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 said in an interview with Entertainment Tonight. “One more time, I tried. I said, ‘But I really do just want to see that one,’ and the shopkeeper said, ‘Oh, I don’t want to hurt your feelings,’ and I said, ‘Okay, thank you so much. You’re probably right, I can’t afford it.’ And I walked out of the store.”
Instead of causing a scene, Winfrey chose to just walk away from the situation. “I could’ve had the whole blow-up thing and thrown down the black card, but why do that?” Winfrey said.
This isn’t the first time Winfrey has had troubles at a luxury store abroad. Back in 2005 she was refused entry to a Hermes shop in Paris 15 minutes after it closed. A Hermes executive later appeared on Winfrey’s show to apologize for the “rigid and rude” behavior of the employee who had turned her away, and Winfrey went on to praise how Hermes handled the situation (including sensitivity training for employees) and urged viewers to keep buying the company’s products.