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When traveling for an extensive period of time, you may need to get a haircut in a country where you do not speak the language.

I usually get a machine haircut and just saying or showing the number (length) is easy enough (you would think).

However while in the UK I usually get a 'five' and that also works in the United States and many countries in Asia, the same length in Germany is a 'twelve'.

I just came back from a haircut here in Morocco and it seems they are using 'the Spanish system' and what seems to be the same length of hair cut was a 'two'.

Is there a system behind this madness? What do these numbers actually mean?

Is there a table somewhere online that compares the different numbers and lists the countries they are used in?

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I would assume pointing with two finger would be universal? Better than the numbers, which are also confusing for clothes, shoes, etc. – Bernhard Mar 26 '13 at 22:27
I think in Germany they are using mm, in morocco they are using the US they are using the fifth trimmer guard which is around this length (2 cm). I am just guessing.. most likely I am wrong. – Heidel Ber Gensis Mar 26 '13 at 22:41
In a barber shop in Japan, I was asked by an elderly lady who owned the barber shop and was cutting my hair "Longu? Shortu?" I got out my mobile phone in typed the kanji for middle ("中"). – Andrew Grimm Mar 27 '13 at 1:06
I'm not sure what a "machine cut" is, but one strategy might be to show the barber a picture of you with your hair at the desired length. – Carolyn Mar 28 '13 at 17:49
I was pleasantly surprised numbers in Croatia were (at least approximately) the same as back home in the USA--and subsequently quite confused that the numbers in Singapore have the opposite relationship with hair length (#4 is shorter than #3, for instance)! – davidvc Dec 31 '15 at 4:11

In Spanish Wikipedia, Hair clipper article has an explanation about that. I'm Spanish and I have always seen this system:

(roughly translated)

Each number means 3 mm or 1/8 inches (= 3,175 mm).

Number 1: 3 mm - 1/8".
Number 2: 6 mm - 2/8" (1/4").
Number 3: 9 mm - 3/8".
Number 4: 12 mm - 4/8" (1/2").
Number 5: 15 mm - 5/8".
Number 6: 18 mm - 6/8" (3/4").
Number 7: 21 mm - 7/8".

Now I'm living in Italy and I bought here an electric clipper (Philips) that uses this same system.

If you went to Morocco and they used this system and nº2 is equivalent to a UK&US 5, it's pretty probable that you measure it in millimeters (maybe you already know it, anyway it is only my guess), but I have no idea what German number (12) can mean.

Maybe people from these countries can tell us how many millimeters it is "a number".

EDIT: Unfortunately I can't speak German but I have googled for understanding UK & US notation and I have found this web. It seems to be American and, although it depends of the clipper brand, as an example this is the representation:

Blade - Length:
00000 - 1/125"
0000 - 1/100"
000 - 1/50"
0A - 3/64"
1 - 3/32"
1A - 1/8"
1.5 - 5/32"
2 - 1/4"
3.5 - 3/8"
3.75 - 1/2"

So my supposition above was wrong.

This other page, maybe American too, or perhaps international, shows a system like the Spanish one.

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