The BP chairman's comment that the oil giant cares about "the small people" received an icy reception on Wednesday from residents along the Gulf Coast.
"I hear comments sometimes that large oil companies are greedy companies or don't care, but that is not the case with BP," BP Chairman Carl-Henric Svanberg told reporters in Washington. "We care about the small people."
The term angered Justin Taffinder of New Orleans, who bristled: "We're not small people. We're human beings. They're no greater than us. We don't bow down to them. We don't pray to them."
Svanberg is Swedish, and his comments may have been an unintentional slight. But coastal residents are angry over the oil spill and what they see as BP's flip and uncaring attitude about a disaster that killed 11 people and is wreaking havoc with nature, such as BP CEO Tony Hayward's comment that he "wants his life back."
Terry Hanners, who is retired from state and federal law enforcement and has a small construction company in Gulf Shores, Ala., said the "small people" remark revealed something about BP's frame of mind.
"These BP people I've met are good folks. I've got a good rapport with them," said Hanners, 74. "But BP does not care about us. They are so far above us. We are the nickel-and-dime folks of this world."
Asked about the BP chairman's remark, BP spokesman Toby Odone told The Associated Press in an e-mail that "it is clear that what he means is that he cares about local businesses and local people. This was a slip in translation."
© Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.