Skip to main content

Oprah Winfrey: I'm sorry Switzerland racism incident got blown up

By Laura Smith-Spark and KJ Matthews, CNN
updated 6:33 PM EDT, Tue August 13, 2013
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Oprah Winfrey says she's sorry that a Swiss store got caught up in a media frenzy
  • The row blew up after Winfrey cited her treatment in the store as an example of racism
  • The store assistant tells a Swiss newspaper she feels terrible, hasn't been able to sleep
  • "It's not an indictment against the country or even that store," says Winfrey

(CNN) -- Oprah Winfrey says she's sorry for the media storm that erupted after she recounted that she was the victim of racism in a posh Swiss boutique.

Winfrey's revelation last week on Entertainment Tonight led to the upscale store being identified as Trois Pommes in Zurich and its staff was immediately caught up in a frenzy of media interest.

The manager of the boutique, Trudie Goetz, subsequently told CNN the entire incident was a "200 percent misunderstanding" and had nothing to do with racism.

Speaking at the Los Angeles premiere of Lee Daniels' "The Butler," Monday, Winfrey said the situation had been blown out of proportion.

Oprah Winfrey explains 'handbag racism'
Oprah returns to the silver screen
Clerk tells Winfrey bag is too expensive

"I think that incident in Switzerland was just an incident in Switzerland. I'm really sorry that it got blown up," she said. "I purposely did not mention the name of the store. I'm sorry that I said it was Switzerland.

"I was just referencing it as an example of being in a place where people don't expect that you would be able to be there."

'No apology needed'

On Entertainment Tonight, Winfrey recounted how she had asked to see a $38,000 handbag, but the shop assistant refused to show it to her because it was "too expensive."

Winfrey explained Monday that for her, racism is not usually overt.

"Nobody is going to come and call me the N-word to my face, unless they are a thug on Twitter or Facebook," she said.

"It shows up for me differently, it shows up (when) I'm in a store and the person doesn't obviously know that I carry the 'black card' and so they make an assessment based upon the way I look and who I am." It appears Winfrey is referring to the exclusive American Express Centurion card, which is issued by invitation only to an exclusive group of the rich and famous.

Winfrey said she was dressed in a Donna Karan skirt and top but was not wearing obvious symbols of wealth such as diamond jewelry or designer shoes.

"You should be able to go into a store looking like whatever you look like and say 'I would like to see this' -- and that didn't happen," she said.

Has something like this happened to you?

But while she stood by it as an example, Winfrey cautioned against reading too much into the specific incident.

And she rejected any idea that Switzerland should be asked to apologize to her.

"It's not an indictment against the country or even that store," she said. "It was just, you know, one person who didn't want to offer me the opportunity to see the bag. So no apology necessary from the country, from Switzerland!"

In her latest film, Winfrey plays the wife of the main character -- portrayed by Forest Whitaker -- who serves as a butler in the White House.

Winfrey's claim 'absurd,' clerk says

Meanwhile, the store clerk concerned told Swiss daily newspaper Blick, in an interview printed Sunday, that she felt "terrible" and had not been able to sleep for days.

The woman, who gave her name as Adriana N. because she said she didn't want to be hassled on the street, said, "I feel as if I'm in the middle of a whirlwind. Totally powerless, as if everything's been taken from me. It's a horror, what's happened."

Adriana, from Italy, said she had asked her manager if she should resign, but that Goetz had stood by her.

Asked to give her version of the incident, Adriana said Winfrey had come into the store and was looking at bags when her eye was caught by a $38,000 crocodile skin number by Tom Ford.

She told the newspaper, "I explained that this was exactly the same bag as the one I had in my hand. Only much more expensive. I would happily show her other bags, I said."

Adriana said Winfrey's claim that she told the media mogul the bag was too expensive for her was absolutely not true.

"That's absurd. I would never say such a thing to a customer. Absolutely not. Good manners and politeness are everything in this shop," she said.

The store assistant added that she hadn't recognized Winfrey but that it would not have made a difference in any case. "We make a huge effort to treat everyone with the same respect and in the same way," she said.

CNN's Mark Thompson contributed to this report.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 10:42 PM EDT, Thu October 23, 2014
Successful launch of lunar orbiter, seen as a precursor for a planned mission to the surface of the moon, marks significant advance for the country's space program.
updated 3:15 PM EDT, Thu October 23, 2014
Cpl. Nathan Cirillo, shot while standing guard at Ottawa's National War Memorial, was known for his easygoing manner and smile.
updated 4:06 PM EDT, Wed October 22, 2014
Non-stop chatter about actress' appearance is nasty, cruel, hurtful, invasive and sexist.
updated 6:08 PM EDT, Thu October 23, 2014
CEO's 30-min Putonghua chat is the perfect charm offensive for Facebook's last untapped market.
updated 11:45 PM EDT, Thu October 23, 2014
Chinese leaders want less odd architecture built in the country.
updated 4:58 PM EDT, Wed October 22, 2014
Air New Zealand's new 'Hobbit' safety video stars Peter Jackson, Elijah Wood, elves and orcs.
updated 10:14 AM EDT, Thu October 23, 2014
A 15-year-old pregnant girl is rescued from slavery, only to be charged with having sex outside of marriage, shocked rights activists say -- a charge potentially punishable by death.
updated 11:33 PM EDT, Tue October 21, 2014
After sushi and ramen, beef is on the list of must-eats for many visitors to Japan.
updated 12:07 PM EDT, Mon October 20, 2014
Airports judged on comfort, conveniences, cleanliness and customer service.
updated 1:48 PM EDT, Wed October 22, 2014
Scientists use CT scans to recreate a life-size image of the ancient king.
updated 5:59 AM EDT, Wed October 22, 2014
Despite billions spent on eradicating poppy production, Afghan farmers are growing bumper crops, a U.S. government report says.
updated 6:21 AM EDT, Fri October 24, 2014
Each day, CNN brings you an image capturing a moment to remember, defining the present in our changing world.
Browse through images from CNN teams around the world that you don't always see on news reports.
ADVERTISEMENT