Oprah racism claims 'absolutely untrue' and a 'horror,' says Swiss shop clerk

Oprah Winfrey.
Oprah Winfrey.FRED PROUSER / Today

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By Randee Dawn

Oprah Winfrey's disturbing story from last Friday about being told by a Swiss store's shop assistant that a handbag she wanted to look at was something she could not afford, is being called "untrue" by the sales clerk in question.

The sales clerk, whose name was only given as "Adriana N." told the Swiss newspaper SonntagsBlick that Winfrey's story "absolutely untrue."

"I even asked her if she wanted to take a closer look at the bag. Mrs. (sic) Winfrey looked around in the store again, but did not say anything further," Adriana told the paper. "Then she went downstairs with her companion. My colleague held the door open for them. They were not even five minutes in our store."

As Winfrey told the story recently to both Entertainment Tonight and Larry King, she wanted to look at a $38,000 handbag but was reportedly told it was "too expensive" for her. According to Winfrey, the clerk then opted to show her a cheaper line of handbags. Winfrey took offense, presuming that she was being offered less-expensive bags because she was black. 

"That's not true," Adriana said. "That is absurd. I would never say anything like that to a customer."

The store was later revealed as Trois Pomme, in Zurich. The owner of the chain of stores, Trudy Götz, apologized publicly to Winfrey, as did the Swiss tourism office. 

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The accusation of racism has turned Adriana's world upside-down, she said. "I have not been able to sleep for days. I feel as if I was in the middle of a hurricane. Totally powerless, also helpless. What is happening is horror."

Winfrey and Adriana clearly have differing opinions about what happened in that store visit, not just in outcome, but details. For one thing, Winfrey told Entertainment Tonight that she had left her hotel and gone to the store alone: "It's just me, by myself (out shopping); Stedman (Graham, Winfrey's longtime companion) wasn't there, and Gayle (King, Winfrey's friend) was not there, no friends, I'm out by myself."

But Adriana is clear: Winfrey "was accompanied by a friend, it might also have been her bodyguard, I don't know. He held the door open for her."

Regardless, Adriana says she doesn't understand why Winfrey is talking about the encounter. "She is so powerful and I am only a salesperson. I did not harm anyone. I also don't understand why she has to exploit this so broadly on TV." 

Adriana, who says she is Italian, did not recognize Winfrey when she entered the store, but says that "would not have made a difference. We try really hard to meet all people with the same respect and to treat everybody equal. If somebody asks me to show an item, I always present it."

Meanwhile, while on the red carpet for a screening of "Lee Daniels' The Butler" Monday, Winfrey spoke about the surprising way the anecdote had become headline news. "I'm really sorry that it got blown up," she said. "I purposefully did not mention the name of the store. I'm sorry that I said it was Switzerland."

And on Twitter last Friday, she tried defusing the incident with some humor:



So what could Adriana have done differently? "I still don't know," she said. "Because to date, I do not know what I could have done wrong." 

Still, she says she would apologize to Winfrey.

"It was a misunderstanding," she said. "I surely did not want to offend Mrs. Winfrey on purpose. I hope this nightmare is over soon."