Here in the U.S. we honor Oprah and we obey Oprah. We don’t talk about her weight anymore. As the tired saying goes: it is what it is. By the way did you know Oprah’s middle name is Gail? Oprah is a perennial news item and we pretty much know everything about her. Or at least enough about her. In contrast, we know little about Switzerland because the Swiss keep a low profile. We barely know the capital of Switzerland. We have a hazy idea that the Swiss are light-skinned, brown haired and probably thin-nosed, in fact thin period. We know there are Alps (as in Heidi) and that rich people go to ski in Gstaad and that there is a Palace Hotel there that is the quintessential luxe place to stay. It is a hotel not only for the slovenly rich but also for the discerning continental rich. And do you know why? Because the Swiss are discreet and discerning when it comes to accommodating rich people. They keep their mouths shut, (cerrado if you pressed two.) They never take sides in any debacle because chances are they are hiding the money of both participants. The “Swiss bank” is the iconic resting place that greedy/savvy people use when they have money coming out the wazoo and they don't want the I.R.S. putting their paws on it. The Swiss will hide your money in French, German, Italian, English and Romansch (yes, that is a language.)
So why am I talking about Switzerland? Because, a salesclerk in a pricey boutique (Trois Pommes) turned up her thin nose at our national treasure, Oprah. First the clerk didn’t recognize her, mortal sin, next she patronized her, mortal sin, and third she refused to do as Oprah asked. What? If Oprah asks you to do something - you step on your grandmother to rush and bloody do it. Now, even though here in the U.S. we’ve long forgotten, Oprah happens to be black. So naturally the American press and many Americans believe the Swiss salesclerk behaved like this because she was racially ignorant. She thought, “this black woman doesn’t understand that the bag she wants to see is $35,000. Her house probably didn’t cost that much and why should I stretch my toned arms and open the case when clearly she can’t afford it and will probably smudge the leather. Plus, she is a tad overweight and doesn’t deserve my complete attention. I’ll distract her with another bag that she also can’t afford but at least I won’t have to open the case.”
Oprah, ever the optimist, asked to see the bag again. Again she was stonewalled. “No,” the clerk said, “it’s too expensive.” At this point, if I had been Oprah I would have trashed Trois Pommes and maybe just left Une Pomme but Oprah walked out quietly.
Writing in the Guardian, Heidi Moore argues that Winfrey likely faced size-based bias alongside the racial variety. “Race,” she writes, “is tied with socioeconomic status struggles; so is weight.”
Oprah, my sister, I experienced the exact handbag scenario at Bergdorf Goodman in Manhattan. I once went into Bergdorf to kill time and asked to see a handbag in a case. The major domo patrolling the floor told me pointedly that it cost 1500 dollars. Translated that meant, “get lost, you’re in the wrong place.” “Is it ostrich?” I persisted. “Yes,” he said and finally invoked the retail rule that states: don’t judge the wealth by the outfit. He opened the case. I made him show me three more bags before walking out. In my case the press would have called it style-racism and height-racism.
By the way, the same week we learned of this incident, Oprah was in the midst of promoting her new film The Butler that has received excellent reviews. Many reviewers smelled Oscar.