Oprah Winfrey, while in Switzerland attending Tina Turner’s wedding in late July, had a nasty confrontation with an humble shop assistant. Winfrey is a talk-show host and TV personality and she has appeared in numerous films; she has written books and formed her own television network.
Whilst shopping in Zurich, Winfrey told Entertainment Tonight: “I go into a store and say to the woman, “‘excuse me, may I see that bag over your head?’ and she says to me ‘no, it’s too expensive.'” Winfrey proceeded to ask again to see the bag but the sales assistant responded “no, no, no, you don’t want to see that one, you want to see this one, because that one will cost too much and you will not be able to afford that.”
She, once more, requested to see the bag, but was denied. The 59-year-old television personality went on to tell the shop assistant “I really do just want to see that one,’ and she said, ‘I don’t want to hurt your feelings,’ and I said, ‘OK thank you so much, you’re probably right, I can’t afford it and walked out of the store.” The crocodile bag by Tom Ford bag was priced at $38.000, of course all peanuts for Winfrey who made $77 million between June 2012-June 2013 (according to the Forbes List). Winfrey was quick to add that she would have never bought it at that crazy price: being an expert in communication she knew that it would have been a great faux pas with millions of her fans who could not afford it.
Winfrey was more concerned with the shop assistant not able to recognize her, how is it possible, with such a great personality? She focused more on the ridiculous nature of the situation as opposed to any possible racist overtones. She further commented by saying “. I didn’t have my eyelashes on, but I was in full Oprah Winfrey gear. I had my little Donna Karan skirt and sandals.’ But then she could not resist the temptation of pushing the ‘racism button’ and she did it.
Fact is that the shop assistant was an Italian immigrant, not a Swiss national. And here are her words, speaking on condition of anonymity, too scared to put her name down. She gave an interview to the Swiss Sunday magazine ‘Blick’.
“It is something terrible and since a few days I can’t sleep, it is like be in the eye of a storm, feeling totally powerless. What has happened is horrible, ” she says “I am not a racist, I am Italian, why should I discriminate someone because of her origin? It is simply absurd.” The sales assistant thinks false the accusations made by Winfrey against her and she adds: “I would have never said such things to a customer, never. Courtesy and good manners are the basic principles of our work. I did nothing wrong to anybody, ever, but she is so powerful and I am a simple sales assistant. I cannot understand why she has made up that story on TV. If this was a true story why not complain to Trudie Goetz, the owner of the shop, who also was at Tina Turner’s wedding? It is something which I cannot really understand.
Here is her version of the events: “Saturday 20 July, afternoon, she entered our shop with a friend, perhaps her bodyguard. There were 3 sales assistance, including me and she asked where the lady section was. I took her to the first floor and asked if she wanted to see something special. She told me that she has never been in a boutique like that in Switzerland and she looked around. I did show to her Jennifer Aniston’s bags, which are very popular, explaining that there are several sizes and materials”, then she added that “she spotted on a very high shelf the 35.000 Swiss Franks crocodile bag. I told her that it was a bag exactly like the one in my hand, but the difference was in the price, much more expensive. And that I could show her more bags.” Of those expensive bags they are selling about 4 or 5 each year.
The sales assistant further explained that more than 50% of their clientele is international coming from all over the world. She had never had any problem before. She spoke in English with Oprah Winfrey and her English is OK but unfortunately not excellent. She is trying her best to treat all customers in the same way and her job is help selling what they have, a work she enjoys greatly. Last Friday – still shell shocked – she asked Trudie Goetz, her boss, if she should resign but she had refused being very understanding and supportive.
After reading her words I have to admit that my heart goes to this humble shop assistant from Milan, forced to work in another Country by the crisis in her native city as opposed to a rich, arrogant and capricious woman who could not resist making up a good tale for her public. Race and gender do not count, it is a just a matter of bon ton and when you have such great power you should be kind and gracious to the common people. If you feel slighted by the fact that they don’t know who you are, you should not trample them under your feet like an elephant gone mad.