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Why Some Colombians Call Their Mothers ‘Your Mercy’

After Altair Jaspe moved from Venezuela to the Colombian capital, Bogotá, she was taken aback by the way she was addressed when she walked into any shop, cafe or doctor’s office.

In a city that was once part of the Spanish empire, she was no longer “señora,” as she would have been called in Caracas, or perhaps, in her younger years, “muchacha” or “chama.” (Venezuelan terms for “girl” or “young woman.”)

Instead, all around her, she was awarded an honorific that felt more fitting for a woman in cape and crown: Your mercy.

Would your mercy like a coffee?

Will your mercy be taking the appointment at 3 p.m.?

Excuse me, your mercy, people told her as they passed in a doorway or elevator.

“It brought me to the colonial era, automatically,” said Ms. Jaspe, 63, a retired logistics manager, expressing her initial discomfort with the phrase. “To horses and carts,” she went on, “maybe even to slavery.”

“But after living it,” she went on, “I understood.”

Altair Jaspe and her husband, Frank Lares, in the Usaquen neighborhood in Bogotá. After moving to Bogotá from Venezuela, Ms. Jaspe said she was taken aback at how often people addressed her using “sumercé.’’
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