For many Mexicans, it is very difficult to answer with a "no" when they are invited to do something they don't want or can't accept, or when they are asked to do something they can't or don't want to do, a phenomenon that surprises many foreigners.
Mexicans are kind and hospitable. They always give you things or invite you to places. Saying no to someone who is offering you some goodwill is considered an offense. They will think you don't like them or you have something against them.
There is an evasion of denial. Then, when it is necessary to say no, it is preferable to turn it upside down, to make it look nice so that one does not hear that it is a no. It's a complicated issue because it's not about all Mexicans and it varies by region and social class, among other things.
There is a cultural substratum possibly of indigenous origin, especially in central Mexico, which establishes certain forms of courtesy and for which it is not very polite to say openly no. For those who say no it means a confrontation with their counterpart.
This difficulty in saying "no" outright has to do with colonial history. During the colonial period, there was a profound disparity where the tradition of indigenous courtesy faced brutal domination. The subject, the servant, always had to say yes.
To say no is an exercise of assertiveness that signals certain individuation, autonomy, that separates the one who expresses it from the rest of the movement. The ability to say no does not depend on each person, and one cannot speak of a singular "Mexican culture". These are cultural clusters that affect the behavior of societies and organizations.
There are two traits that define Mexicans. Mexicans are a society in which there is great inequality, an asymmetry between those who hold authority and those who follow it. That produces phenomena of obedience, submission, respect to the hierarchy. Mexicans are more attached to collectivism than to individualism. The privilege belonging to the group over individuation.
Avoiding saying "no" is an adaptive solution. Being ambiguous, delaying resolution, serves not to hurt the sensitivity of the group where being all together is important.
There are two ways that Mexicans say no without saying it openly. For example, if someone is invited to say something they don't want or can't accept, or is asked for a favor they can't or won't do.
The first way is to leave it in ambiguity. Here the answers will be of the type, "yes, then we agree", "I'll tell you tomorrow", "I'll call you".
The second way is to nuance it, to make it softer. For example, give explanations such as "I have homework" or "I can't right now, but another day.
Mexicans do know when it's no
These ways of saying "no" are codes that are shared and understood in Mexico. With these answers, Mexicans do not reject, say no to someone's company, or deny a favor.
Generally, Mexicans do understand each other. Although, of course, there are also occasions when saying no directly ends up generating a more complex dynamic, where one does not understand what is happening. However, for foreigners from other cultures a little more assertive it could be disconcerting.
Highly courteous and sophisticated
Mexicans have courtesy and good manners in very high regard. Courtesy means contradicting the other as little as possible and doing your best to agree with them. Therefore, these forms of saying no above all are a form of high courtesy and sophistication in communication and do not seem to mean any problem.
This twist of language is not exclusive to Mexicans. In France for example "pas mal". It means something like this: "it's not bad" and the French use it to say that something is very good. It's very rare. But it seems very clear to the French. Another example is in English: "don't call us, we will call you,", but in reality, they won't actually be called, it's a lie.
Saying no is very difficult for everyone. That's why it's all about finding a way to say it. The Mexican way of speaking seems to be very elegant in its ways of saying no to the other without them noticing and, in addition, end up thanking them.