The sales assistant who allegedly refused to show Oprah Winfrey a handbag in an exclusive Swiss handbag boutique, has denied claims that her actions were racially motivated and says that Winfrey's claims are "absurd".

Oprah Winfrey
Oprah Winfrey at the L.A. premiere of Lee Daniels' The Butler.

Winfrey was staying in Zurich whilst attending the wedding celebrations of Tina Turner and Erwin Bach. Winfrey claims to have stepped out of her hotel for a quick shopping spree which ended abruptly when she came across, allegedly, an incident of implied racism in Trois Pomme, an exclusive handbag store. 

Winfrey told her story on Entertainment Tonight in response to a question on racism. This is Winfrey's take on what happened in Zurich: "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.'"

According to Winfrey, she 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." Winfrey asked again saying: "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."

Oprah Winfrey
Oprah Winfrey with her partner Stedman Graham at the New York premiere of The Butler.

Winfrey did not specifically say the incident was racially motivated, but given that the question she was responding to was about discrimination it's no surprise the shop assistant has been swept into a media frenzy. Winfrey finished her tale with the rhetorical question: "now why did she do that?"

The answer appears to be because the sales assistant harboured the outdated and offensive notion that Winfrey, as a black woman, could not afford the handbag.  However, the shop assistant has stated this is quite simply not the case, saying to a Swiss paper: 'it is absolutely not true that I declined to show her [Winfrey] the bag on racist grounds. I even asked her if she wanted to look at the bag."

She went on to say 'I didn't know who she was when she came into the store. That wouldn't have made any difference if I had."

Tina Turner
Tina Turner at Milan A/W Fashion Week in 2011. Winfrey was in Switzerland attending Turner's wedding.

The sales assistant, who chose to remain anonymous whilst being interviewed by the newspaper SonntagsBlick, has a different memory of the situation. She said: 'I wasn't sure what I should present to her when she came in on the afternoon of Saturday July 20 so I showed her some bags from the Jennifer Aniston collection. I explained to her the bags came in different sizes and materials, like I always do."

Apparently the misunderstanding took place when the shop assistant, trying to save Winfrey money (despite the talk show host's $77 million earnings last year), suggested the bag which Winfrey was so interested in was "like the one I held in my hand, only much more expensive, and that I could show her similar bags."

Oprah Winfrey
Winfrey at the New York premiere of The Butler.

She went on to say it may simply have been a misunderstanding due to the language barrier, the sales assistant said "I spoke to Oprah Winfrey in English. My English is OK but not excellent, unfortunately."

Furthermore, the shop assistant claims that, instead of repeatedly asking to see the Tom Ford crocodile skin handbag, Winfrey "looked around the store again but didn't say anything else. Then she went with her companion to the lower floor. My colleague saw them to the door. They were not even in the store for five minutes."

Oprah Winfrey
Oprah Winfrey at the premiere of Beyonce: Life is but a Dream at the Ziegfield Theatre in New York.

Later in the interview, the sales assistant painted herself as a victim in the situation, saying that Winfrey's claims are "not true" especially regarding the "absurd accusation that she was prevented from looking at the handbag. The assistant continued, "'I don't know why she is making these accusations. She is so powerful and I am just a shop girl." She went on to say "I don't know why someone as great as her must cannibalize me on TV," Which is an interesting considering the assistant claimed she had no idea who Winfrey was. 

Ultimately it would appear this incident is likely to be a misunderstanding as a result of the language barrier and what the shop assistant was trying to do - showing Winfrey a range of products, thus providing good customer service.

However, once again there has been an issue of poor communication. Surely if the sales assistant, through her boss Trudie Goetz (who attended Tina Turner's wedding), could contact Winfrey or vice versa perhaps the situation could be rectified.

Oprah Winfrey
Oprah Winfrey at the L.A. premiere of Lee Daniels' The Butler.