Is Switzerland Racist? Should a Purse Cost $40K? Is Oprah Okay?

Hi Meltingpot Readers,

Do the Swiss have a chocolate problem?
Do the Swiss have a chocolate problem?

So, some of you have already you expressed your opinions, frustrations and disgust over this incident that was reported last week. For those of you who don’t follow Oprah’s every move, apparently the royal O, was shopping in Switzerland. She was in a fancy store and was looking at some fancy purses and reportedly when she asked to see one particular bag with a $38,000 price tag on it, the storekeeper refused to show it to her claiming it would be too expensive. She then tried to offer her some less expensive merchandise. Here’s a link from the HuffingtonPost to how this story was originally reported.

Today however, everybody from Oprah herself to the Swiss tourism authority is apologizing, in a way that seems to suggest that it was all just one, big, black misunderstanding. Oprah stands by her story, but now insists she doesn’t require an apology from the country of Switzerland. The shopkeeper herself claims because she speaks Italian better than English it was just a communication error and she was just trying to be helpful. The only person not apologizing is the alligator who had to lose his life to become that $40,000 purse. But I digress.

Is Switzerland racist?  Is that the question we should be asking after all this? Or should we be focusing on the fact that somebody would pay almost $40,000 for a purse? I know that is so not the point of this story, but I can not understand why anybody – even with a $77 million annual salary –wants to buy a purse that costs the same amount as a decent car, two year’s of a college tuition, or the down payment on a $250,000 house. Come on, Oprah. But that’s just me. Let’s get back to Switzerland.

I’d hate for an entire country to be labeled as racist based on a single incident. I mean, if we’re going to judge a country based on one Black American’s experience there, what about Tina Turner? She has lived in Switzerland for years. She just married a Swiss man and claims she has a better life as a Black woman in Switzerland than she would in the United States. Thankfully, some journalists have taken the time to investigate the claim that the Swiss have a ‘chocolate’ problem after the Oprah incident. Time magazine came up with the following article, titled “Switzerland’s Xenophobia: It’s Not Just About Oprah.  The article explores the current climate in Swiss society as it relates to immigrants, asylum seekers and marginally, people of color. Based on that article, it would seem the Swiss are struggling like most other Western European nations with the concept of a multicultural society.

I’d love to hear from you, dear readers. My world travelers. Have you ever been to Switzerland? What was your impression of the country as it relates to diversity and relations between different cultures? Any thoughts and/or insights are always appreciated. This is where the real learning happens. You know I’m listening.


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6 Thoughts to “Is Switzerland Racist? Should a Purse Cost $40K? Is Oprah Okay?”

  1. Jane Moore

    Everyone in Switzerland is not racist just as everyone in US isn’t. Yet racism exists in both places, even in US where we have, I think, a lot more diversity in races and ethnicity than Switzerland. The price of the purse is obscene – but if Oprah wanted to look at it, why shouldn’t she? I wondered what happened to the salesgirl. Even in snooty stores I think a $38,000 sale is something they don’t want to miss.

    1. Ms. Meltingpot

      Hi Jane,
      Your point is well taken. Racism exists everywhere. *sigh*

  2. Cyretha

    Hi LT,
    Ironically, I could not open the link to the article “Switzerland’s Xenophobia: It’s not just about Oprah”. However, as a person of color living in the pristine Alpine country I will say that like every country, there are racial/cultural/religious issues. Switzerland is a country of 8 million people and 1.8 million are foreigners including home to roughly 32,000 Americans. Without these foreigners the population would be in decline.

    There is a conservative political party here who has made some negative campaigns including an illustration of a black sheep being kicked out of the country. Not long ago there was a referendum on the contruction of minarets. The referendum passed banning the contruction of minarets. It was thought that minarets meant the “Islamization of Switzerland”. The referendum, however, had nothing to do with the contruction of mosques, only minarets.

    If you look at the Swiss National Football (Soccer) Team you will see it reflects the mosaic nature of the country. Even, the well-loved Roger Federer is half-South African and half Swiss. Thabo Sefolosha who plays in the NBA is Swiss and the list goes on.

    Switzerland is the home of many large multinational companies like Roche, Novartis, Nestle, Swatch, ABB etc. These companies serve companies all over the world. From an economical standpoint the country can not afford to have a “racist” image. That is not say that there are not some racist people in the country.

    Every summer thousands of people from the Middle-East come to Switzerland to escape the heat. Many Arab ladies are walking around cities in their hijabs with sacks from Gucci, Hermes, Louis Vuitton, etc. Clearly, their money has not been refused.

    Finally, the salesperson in question is said to be Italian, so may be we should be asking this questions about the Italians. They have been in the news a lot recently. People have been making monkey chants in stadiums and negative comments about Cecile Kyenge, the first black government minister in Italian history.

    In one has the opportunity to visit Switzerland, I think they should and they will be able to draw their own conclusion. I, like Tina, am staying.

    1. Ms. Meltingpot

      Thank you for your nuanced opinion. Coming from a local, it means a lot. And glad to know we have a Meltingpot reader who can report straight from the “scene of the crime.”

  3. Wendy

    I’ve been to Switzerland a couple of times. I have a pretty good Swiss friend that lived with us for 6 months while doing an internship. My experience is that this Swiss struggle with racism as much as most other countries in the world. I have heard some smug comments come out of the mouths of various swiss folks, enough to were I think they look down on various countries/cultures.
    I noticed the Swiss society seem to be a very rigid society with a lot of rules. I suppose anything that throws in their face that these rules are arbitrary is threatening to them.

    I won’t get into how sad of a society we live in when some can spend 40,000 on an animal skin while there are others starving.

    I’m reading this now: Pathologies of Power

    BTW: I finished The Walls of Cartagena. I loved the book. Its educational. Its a good read and has inspired my last term paper for my master’s, woo hoo!

    1. Ms. Meltingpot

      Love all the book reccs. Keep them coming. And congrats on the final paper. Woo-hoo indeed! Are you on the way home?

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