Culture & History, Learn Spanish

Learning to Assimilate Impermanence with No Hay

You'll become familiar with the phrase "No Hay," that inevitably makes itself apparent at some point when something you want or need isn't available right now

Spanish Pinpointed

If you have lived in Mexico for a while, the title of this article will sound a familiar ring. If you come to live in Mexico for a while, you will, without doubt, become well acquainted with this short phrase that expresses more than it appears to at first blush.

Out of stuff

No Hay, in Spanish, means “there isn’t any,” and in Mexico the term may be applied to almost anything, anytime you need or wish to acquire something.

For example, the term may be used to express:

  • a dearth of foodstuffs, “No hay galletas que te gustan” (they don’t have the biscuits you like);
  • stuff in general, “No hay lentes de contacto” (no contact lenses in stock);
  • and even services, “No hay luz” (power cut).

Batch availability of foods and other goods

While the overall availability of all kinds of things is Mexico has improved immensely in recent times, in comparison to its northern neighbor, a continuous reliable supply of certain types of goods can still be a hit-and-miss affair here, even in some of the up-scale stores where imported goods are most readily available, and where items on display this week might not be there again within a month—and might never return.

This inconsistent and ‘limited batch’ pattern of supply can sometimes be a source of frustration, in most part, because Murphy’s Law dictates that in Mexico, the infamous ‘No Hay’ will spring up at the precise moment when whatever isn’t available will cause you some inconvenience, and never when it really doesn’t matter.

The impact of No Hay

The ‘no hay’ effect may be mitigated with some forward planning, but it can never be completely avoided.

It could be that your car just broke down, and ‘no hay’ applies to the very part it happens to need now; perhaps the local store has run out of a key ingredient you need for tonight’s dinner party; the gift idea you saw in-passing at CostCo won’t be there next month; or perhaps you’ve been looking forward to eating tamales, and the restaurant you sit down at “doesn’t have any today.”

The impact of ‘no hay’ also depends upon where you are situated, how much energy you’re willing to expend in locating whatever it is you want or need, and what price you’re willing to pay to obtain it.

For example, if a store in Mexico City you go to says ‘no hay,’ there’s a high probability that some other place in the capital will have stock, if you’re willing to wear-out the boot leather on your soles (but more often, the tread on your car’s tires) to find it.

If you are in the provinces, ‘no hay’ could mean ‘no hay’ for hours, days, or weeks, —or ever— leaving you with little alternative but to try the next nearest ‘bigger’ town or city. Or and its Latin American equivalent,

Finding peace with No Hay

In the moment when it happens, ‘no hay’ may be frustrating, inconvenient or disappointing to your situation. Nonetheless, when you live in Mexico, the omnipresent ‘no hay’ will pay homage to your situations sooner or later.

A corollary hidden within ‘no hay‘ is that it presents an occasion to break a habitual pattern of buying or wanting the same things over and again, inviting you to make a different choice and try something else.

Part of the art of living in places like Mexico is that one comes to accept that, on some occasions, you just can’t—and that’s as it is. It’s part of the lifestyle tapestry here that encourages you to make peace with the fluid situations that will visit you, and ultimately with yourself.

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  1. Firstlast says

    I frequent “Tony Paperlaria” , a well stocked stationary emporium with reasonable pricing. Only problem, they only accept MX credit cards)

    I was searching for a small notebook that would fit in a shirt pocket. I asked two employees..”no hay” Yes, having lived in MX for thirteen years, not to be deterred, I found the pocket notebooks on a readily available shelf. I bought four in case “No hay” became a reality.

  2. Karen says

    Never take “No” or “No hay” as your final answer. Say “Gracias” and go ask somebody else. In my experience living in Mexico for quite a while now, about half the time they do have what you’re looking for. You’ve just asked the wrong person.

  3. Marcos says

    Here in San Miguel they say, “se acabó”.

  4. peter obrien says

    Behind all the comments here, there is the unstated (unrecognised) belief that you entitled to have anything you want, as soon as you want it. In actuality this is a belief manufactured and sold to us by huge commercial entities and their parasitic ad agencies. This totally unfounded belief is an important part of the wage trap that keeps people both enslaved and needing more. Needing more, right now. Read this article again but as you do remember that a large portion of the worlds population can’t get a glass of clean water, let alone any food; for themselves or their children. Then sit back in your upmarket cafes with your lattes and tell each other harrowing stories about peanut butter shortages, Wake up!! What bought you here?

    • Firstlast says

      Life is brutal Peter. Instead of spending time venting your anger concerning people’s lifestyle, better to spend your time enjoying yourself.

      • William LeVan says

        I didn’t read his comment as angry, but frustrated at the people he’s met that seem to want everything and now, while forgetting those who lead simpler lives and who have so little.

    • Corinne Vaillancourt says

      ?? Entitlement is rampent within the gringo community. My rage has been awoken at times witnessing such behavior.

  5. Colette and Philip Pepperell says

    Great post!
    “No hay” is a common phrase down here in Ecuador as well and comes up a lot at the grocery stores. Even the huge Megamaxi (supermarket chain) down here in Manta, which theoretically has everything, when they run out, it could be ‘no hay’ for weeks and months.
    All part of the “Aventura de Cultura”! Love it!

  6. B.Buckman says

    As the writer states ‘no hay’ could mean never in the provinces, I know because that’s where I live. Over the years I have heard the phrase ad nausea and since we are within 70 kilometers of Leon folks here always add: ….’en Leon hay’.
    I agree with Oscar, it’s simply a matter of poor management. A store, even a large chain store, will stock a case or two of a product, say Skippy Peanut Butter, and they will sell quickly. Then, instead of recognizing they have a good seller and making sure they have ample in stock and means for ordering more the product simply disappears. Some will return eventually but some never return. I’ve asked an employee where a certain item is that I’ve been buying for months and will receive the ubiquitous ‘no hay’. No matter how I try to convince them that I have bought said item in this store for a long time I’m given a quizzical look which seems to say; ‘Are you sure? Perhaps you mean some other store because here ‘no hay’.

  7. Oscar Romero says

    The problem with this sentiment about the reasoning as to why–we seem to always hear “no hay”, I think, in my humble opinion–that it will always boils down to poor planning or no planning, most likely. Why can we simply learn and–try and plan better so that we could minimize or eliminate the “no hays”? Or–at the same time, place ourselves in our customer shoes and go further with a much better customer service and provide a place where “si hay”. That will cause a “wow” response from the customer for sure.

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