Friday, 9 August 2013

Switzerland: A misunderstanding of racist proportions - Great for tourism

I know what I want
When I bought my home about 12 years ago, one of the things I went shopping for was a bed, a good sturdy bed that will stand the test of use and time that I sought advice from my estate agent where best to go.
It was on the other side of town, in Amsterdam, so I mounted my bicycle and was outside the shop in about 25 minutes. The shop owner walked up to me and asked what I wanted and I told him, I was somewhat immediately profiled and he thought what I needed was the ordinary box spring variety, I allowed him his spiel before I specifically told him what I really wanted, it was deeper in the store.
I strode in and immediately saw what I was looking for, wooden, carved, polished and really sturdy to the touch, the feel and the hold apart from it being quite heavy – I pointed at it and immediately he said it was too expensive – maybe it was, but that was what I wanted.
Means-profiling
He remonstrated until I snapped back at him, “Who told you I can't pay for it? That is the bed I want and let’s be done with it.” With that came grudging respect, an offer to deliver the bed at any time of my convenience into the late evening and the service I should have had from the moment I showed up as a customer – Courtesy, respect, friendliness and helpfulness.
What had happened to me was I was ‘means-profiled’ by reason of some subjective quality, probably race, in the mind of the shop owner, he had thought – “I have seen many shoppers come here and this chap cannot afford the best goods I have in my store, I will not waste my time with him window shopping, I’ll just show him what belongs to the affordable profile of his type.”
We all suffer it
I am sure many of us have been ‘means-profiled’, belittled, patronised and basically disrespected on the premise of some subjective and prejudicial perception of another and in those circumstances have had to endure a looming humiliation from people who honestly think they are doing us some good or as a shop attendant said to Oprah Winfrey in Zurich recently, “I don’t want to hurt your feelings.
In the narration Oprah Winfrey gave and one should not have to introduce her, she was in Switzerland to attend TinaTurner’s wedding when she decided to go shopping without an entourage or posse. [The Oprah Interview with CBS ET – The story has since been edited after I first read it.]
A clear perception
She walked into one of the Trois Pomme luxury shops in Zurich on Bahnhofstrasse, probably with the name Prada Donna and a conversation ensued where she wanted a particular bag and the shop attendant refused thrice to obtain the bag for her with a clear statement that it was too expensive.
It is not that the attendant, did not want to serve Oprah, but the attendant concentrated on showing Oprah bags she did not want, as Oprah pressed thrice to have a look at the $40,000 bag before she left the shop having been pitied, sympathised with, belittled and patronised, with a lovely statement from the attendant, “Oh, I don’t want to hurt your feelings.
In fact, Oprah delivered that line with a mock-Swiss accent, highlighting occasions of subtle racism that she has encountered as a self-made billionaire, successful and powerful global media figure who just happens to be African-American.
No, she didn’t say that
As the backlash began to grow against the store, then, Zurich and possibly might even engulf Switzerland and create a seething animosity to any encounter with the Swiss from here on, the shop owner, Trudie Goetz, so lacking in nuance and perception of the grave situation that had been triggered, first apologised for the “misunderstanding” and then palmed it off with, "We don't have any facial recognition here.
You have to ask, what can be so misunderstood with a simple request as, “Please can I see that bag?”? Especially, when that request was made thrice, giving time to exercise the utmost patience and avoid the need to flare up like a diva that you are probably in your rights to do, if you needed to.
The one about facial recognition is beneath contempt, it is lower than a rotten snake’s belly. Why should a shop have to have face recognition to determine whether a stranger is of means or a pauper to decide what service they should get?
Strike off Switzerland?
No, but the smarter heads in charge of tourism for Zurich and Switzerland are in crisis and damage-limitation overdrive because the last thing any city that thrives on the rich and tourism needs is this kind of publicity – not in a million years, the cost will be unquantifiable.
The worst part of this is, if such rotten treatment can be meted out to a global personality like Oprah Winfrey, we the lesser personalities who are striving to be popular in the smallest sphere of influence with might have numbering on just the fingers of one hand, have no chance.
Now, I have been to Switzerland twice before, to Zurich and Geneva – these are supposed to be global cities of renown, I had a wonderful time, I met good and friendly people, I loved the place, I love the lakes, but if this kind of attitude lurks in the underbelly of some of the people one might encounter, it is easy to keep Switzerland off one’s itinerary without much effort.


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