How to know "your number" for a machine haircut in a foreign country?

  • 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?

    I would assume pointing with two finger would be universal? Better than the numbers, which are also confusing for clothes, shoes, etc.

    I tried that in Laos once, it went horribly wrong.

    I think in Germany they are using mm, in morocco they are using cm...in 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.

    Depends on what the number means. 5 could mean 5th setting of the machine (which could be totaly random), 5mm, 1/5 Inch, or something completely different. I always tell them the length in mm which is pretty universal. If someone doesnt know what mm means, you could explain or show with your fingers.

    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").

    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.

    I admit I always thought the number was standard... never really thought it changed from place to place... I just learned something today

    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)!

    Hmmm, sixty-some years and i never heard of a number system. I described in detail how long I wanted it, reinforced with pointing where it should end, and the guy did what he wanted anyway. .... Oh, I'm a little slow; you're talking about thickness or depth, not length.

    I won't put this in for a bounty, but to directly answer your question, you carry the clipper attachment from your native country with you. It's plastic and its weight is negligible. You can show it to the barber and be confident that the correct size will be used. As a big time advantage, you don't even need to know the language! Show and tell :)

    @GayotFow - that's a great idea. But by now I'm not doing clipper cuts anymore. A scissors cut is the same price and I actually like the fact that I don't know what I get at the end. And every gram counts.

    @NeanDerThal: "I think in Germany they are using mm" - indeed, in Germany, mm and cm are used. In fact, I have never heard anyone here refer to this as a (unitless, abstract) "number" rather than explicitly referring to "hair length" and saying "10mm", "11mm", or "1.2cm", etc.

  • 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.

  • What I usually do is use pictures instead. The next time you get a good haircut, ask a friend to take a few pictures of your head or take some selfies. Then every time you go to a barber shop in any country show them these pictures and they will know what to do. A lot more reliable than trying to guess the local number system :)

  • This is a very old question but the truth is there is no real answer

    All counties have different systems, having said that all (usually) follow a simple rule - which do they use day to day? imperial or metric? If its metric its 3mm per grade and 1/8 if imperial. This is the only answer to this kind of travel problem without listing every single country

    Overall the best way of dealing with with this problem is to show them a photo

    If you like this please also like @machlas answer as its absolutely correct (as far as it can be) but offers no solution to the problem - so while it doesn't answer the question you should take a photo if you are unsure and think you will stay long enough to need a haircut

    3mm and 1/8" are close enough to make no difference. That is *not* what this question is about.

  • In the US we use the 8th inch system:

    1 = 1/8 inch 2 = 2/8 inch 3 = 3/8 inch 4 = 4/8 inch 5 = 5/8 inch 6 = 6/8 inch 7 = 7/8 inch 8 = 1 inch

    However, I live in Rome, Italy and when I go to a barber sometimes they use this system and sometimes they use another system, which may just be millimeters. I had a really bad surprise this way last time I went and lost all of my hair. In both the US and Rome most barbers I have seen use Wahl brand clippers.

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Content dated before 7/24/2021 11:53 AM