Billionaire media mogul Oprah Winfrey says she ran into Swiss racism when a clerk at Trois Pommes, a pricey Zurich boutique, refused to show her a US$38,000 handbag, telling one of the world’s richest women that she wouldn’t be able to afford it.
Winfrey earned 77 million US dollars in the year ending in June, according to Forbes magazine.
“She said: ‘No, 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,”‘ Winfrey, appearing on the US television programme “Entertainment Tonight,” quoted the clerk as saying.
“And I said, “Well, I did really want to see that one.’ And she refused to get it.”
She brought up the incident during an interview about her new movie, “Lee Daniels’ The Butler,” which opens next week and focuses on civil rights and race relations in the US she was asked to open up about her own experiences with discrimination.
Swiss tourism officials and the boutique owner were quick to offer apologies on Friday.
Winfrey was in Switzerland to attend the wedding of her longtime friend Tina Turner, who has lived in Zurich for many years and has been quoted saying how much she enjoys living among the Swiss.
Turner was granted a passport earlier this year, a process that typically takes years.
About 23 percent of Switzerland’s 8 million residents are non-Swiss, and the country earned more than US$39 billion from tourism in 2011.
Last year, though, a government-appointed commission reported that immigrants, tourists, asylum-seekers and “people of a different skin colour” can encounter “xenophobia and racism in certain areas of life”.
The nationalistic Swiss People’s Party, which has the largest number of seats in the federal parliament, has won support through claims that immigrants can bring crime and social problems to a country that has been an oasis of stability even in Europe’s darkest days.
In recent years, the People’s Party has successfully campaigned to ban the construction of minarets in a country that has about 400,000 Muslims, and to tighten the nation’s asylum law.
Swiss lawmakers also narrowly rejected a proposal to ban veils worn by some Muslim women in public.
And this week, a row broke out over plans to bar asylum-seekers living in the small town of Bremgarten from visiting public swimming pools and attending schools.
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