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Oprah Says She Faced Racism When A Clerk Told Her She Could Not Afford A $38,000 Purse


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GENEVA - Oprah Winfrey says she had a racist encounter while shopping in Switzerland — and the national tourist office and the shop owner have apologized.

The billionaire media mogul told the U.S. program "Entertainment Tonight" that a shop assistant in Zurich refused to show her a black handbag priced at $38,000 because "you will not be able to afford that."

Forbes magazine estimates that Winfrey earned $77 million in the year ending in June.

Winfrey was in town to attend last month's wedding of her longtime pal Tina Turner, who lives in a chateau along Lake Zurich.

"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 on Friday.

The tourism office also posted an apology on Twitter, saying "this person acted terribly wrong."

Shop owner Trudie Goetz told the BBC that an assistant had shown Winfrey several other items before the "misunderstanding" over the bag, which was kept behind a screen. The Blick newspaper quoted Goetz as saying the bag was priced at 35,000 Swiss francs ($38,000).

She also told Blick that she was "truly sorry" because her staff are well-trained to treat customers well.

"I have to admit that the employee is Italian. Of course, she speaks English, but not as well as her mother tongue," Goetz was quoted as saying. "It was a real misunderstanding."

Winfrey was involved in another retail rebuff in Paris in 2005, when she was turned away from a Hermes boutique 15 minutes after closing time. The store said it was closed for a private public relations event.

A Hermes executive appeared on her talk show to apologize for the "rigid and rude" behaviour of the employee. Winfrey complimented Hermes on its handling of the incident — including sensitivity training for employees — and urged viewers to continue to buy the company's products.

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1. $38,000 is a lot more than than average black woman in the USA makes in a year. I wonder how many low income people can identify with her.

2. Despite her and what the media claims, she is the NOT the most famous and recognizable people on earth. I am sure the average person in the villages of Asia have no idea who she is.

3. Is it coincidence that her new movie, The Butler is coming right now? What better timing to get some free publcity? Why should she even metnion such a trivial issue?

4. Denied a chance to buy a $38,000 is hardly a civil rights case, considering there are more important issues in that area.

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May not have been racism as store employees at places like that often scout out your appearance and what you have on to judge which customers are legit as people do try to take advantage of places like those. Oprah may not have been sporting the attire associated with big spenders at the time though at the very least it was still rude.

What amuses me most though is how upset so many people seem to get because someone else makes a lot more money than them. As if they are entitled haha.

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I missed the part where there is racism involved. It doesn't seem like the employee said "You are black, therefore you cannot afford this.." or something to that effect.

It certainly could have been skin colour (which is not right), but it could also easily have been any numbers of other things, such as the way she spoke, her attire, her vehicle, etc. Sounds like a business that caters to a certain crowd, and has to attempt to identify who belongs in their store and who doesn't, which is an inexact science.

In shops like these, customer service is usually very high, so employees will generally have a very personal relationship with their customers, if they haven't seen you before it raises alarms as to whether you are just there to window shop. In order to keep service at the highest level, these shops must identify window shoppers and be careful not to waste their time on them, lest a paying customer be forced to wait around for service. New customers are generally expected to introduce themselves and explain their financial situation, this builds the confidence of the employees and begins the business relationship. Sounds like Oprah just stormed in and started asking to look at stuff, completely ignoring the conventional protocol, she could have easily mentioned she is a TV star, or that she owns several of a similar bag, showed up in a Rolls Royce, etc.

Imagine if a guest on Oprah's show were to show up at the studio without ID of any kind, I'm willing to bet security would not let them in, its the same type of situation. You need to declare yourself first in order to bypass security measures (including a store's security screen). Just like shopping for an engagement ring, you walk in to the jeweler and declare that you are going to propose, and what your price range is, this helps the jeweler establish you are safe to show expensive products, you don't just walk in and say 'hey, show me that ring right now'.

Restricting access to products protects the consumer as much as the business. For example, if I cannot afford a $38,000 item (which I surely cannot), it would be a very risky situation for me to be holding that item, where I could potentially damage it and ruin myself financially. This risk increases if one put themselves in a position where it would be easy for them to cause damage, such as holding a coffee cup or a woman having long fingernails. In order to keep people safe, a screening process must take place, this is why you need to go through the proper process of establishing a relationship with the store first, it is in everyone's best interest. Oprah was treated fairly, she was shown several items, they only seemed concerned about their more expensive pieces, this is completely normal. When denied access to the $38k purse, that was a golden opportunity to explain who you are and why you can afford it, instead I'm guessing Oprah started whining and arguing, which is a red flag and something these stores do not want happening on their premises as it would disrupt others customers.

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