A French family who were visiting the Musée d’Orsay in Paris at the weekend, one of the French capital’s most popular museums, had to cut short their visit when the museum received complaints from other customers about the family’s body odours.
The couple and their children, described as ‘poor’ by L’Express, had been visiting the Paris landmark accompanied by a volunteer from the French charity ATD-Quart Monde, an association which battles social exclusion.
During the course of the family’s visit, the Musée d’Orsay staff received complaints from other museum visitors about the smell emanating from the family. Both parents and their children had just visited a gallery devoted to the artist Van Gogh when they were approached by one of the museum custodians. The custodian asked the family to leave the museum because "visitors have complained that you smell", reports Le Figaro.
The volunteer from the charity who was accompanying the family protested that the family’s behaviour had been entirely proper and said they were not bothering anyone. He also pointed out that there was nothing in the museum’s conditions of entry which would justify the family cutting short their visit.
In an attempt to defuse the situation, the family and the volunteer then headed off towards the much quieter Art Nouveau section of the museum but they were then surrounded by four museum staff who said in no uncertain terms that the family were required to leave immediately and not return.
Rather than cause a scene, the family left the museum but their escort returned to demand an explanation as to who had given the order to expel the family and cause such humiliation to unfortunates who, as it stood, already felt excluded from society.
Later, when interviewed by French news channel 20 minutes, the volunteer from the charity ATD-Quart Monde said,
“(The family) were not surprised because they are so used to being rejected, whether in relation to housing or health care. They did not even react. In the final analysis, that absence of reaction is as shocking as the attitude of the museum custodians.”
Asked what he expected now of the Musée d'Orsay, the volunteer said, “I sent an email on Saturday to management (at the museum) telling them what had happened because I have never experienced such a situation during the many occasions I have accompanied deprived families to museums. What I have demanded is that the people who work in museums as custodians are trained to accommodate this section of the public. But first and foremost, I'm still waiting for an apology from the directorate of the Musée d'Orsay. That is the least they could do.”
Typhaine Cornacchiari, a spokesman for the charity told L’Express that the charity ‘regrets’ the incident and said,
“it shows how the poorest suffer discrimination on a daily basis and that when someone has the look of extreme poverty about them, they don’t get treated the same. If ladies wear strong perfume, they are not asked to leave.”