Euro 2016 mania yet to hit Paris
With the knockout stages in full swing, NEIL HUMPHREYS heads to Euro 2016 to see if the football will improve and whether an Englishman is still popular in Europe.
The customs official at the Eurostar station raised a quizzical eyebrow at my passport.
"Singapore?" He sniffed. "Singapore isn't in Europe."
"That's true," I replied. "But nor is Britain anymore."
He smiled politely and ushered me towards the train to Paris.
In the waiting room, tattooed men with no necks and hands the size of dinner plates fought a losing battle to keep protruding stomachs hidden beneath ill-fitting Wales jerseys.
A couple of youngsters made an ill-advised attempt to kick off a Welsh chant, but men with sore heads curtly reminded the kids that it was 8am. Hangovers take time to heal.
On the train, the Welsh brigade slept soundly.
Eurostar has wisely banned the sale of alcohol on all trains bound for Paris and Lille at the moment, so the burly band of British fans had little reason to stay awake.
At regular intervals, armed police patrolled the carriages - not a typical procedure on Eurostar trains - checking every passenger and beneath every seat.
But the atmosphere was sleepy and benign, in stark contrast to the bloody scenes witnessed at Marseille a fortnight ago.
Hopefully, the knockout stages represent a tournament turning a new leaf, in every sense.
At the famous Gare de Nord-Paris station, a steward playfully refused to give directions to the correct train line to the Stade de France.
"We are not in the same European community anymore," he joked.
"Now you must learn to speak French."
Unlike other French cities, Paris is renowned for its sporting aloofness. If it isn't France, they aren't really interested. Certainly, Euro 2016 mania has yet to take hold in the capital.
A bored employee toyed with his phone at a tournament merchandise stall, which was empty and already looking forlorn just a fortnight into the tournament.
The streets around the Stade de France, situated in a grey, featureless district in north-east Paris, were eerily deserted.
Aside from a couple of refugees begging for cash and the omnipresent armoured vans filled with yawning policemen, the Stade de France had a strange, apocalyptic feel.
But, on the Metro journey to the south-west of Paris, towards Le Parc des Princes, home of Paris Saint-Germain and the venue for this morning's (Singapore time) Wales-Northern Ireland encounter, it was easier to find the tournament's pulse.
Carriages were filled with Welsh and Irish fans, swopping bad jokes and body odours in the dank, humid air, stopping only to move aside for Parisian families.
By the time they drifted out of bars and cafes, swaggering down the street in a scene reminiscent of Michael Jackson's Thriller, the only risk was being buried beneath an avalanche of banter.
Uefa's cheesy slogan seemed to have some merit after all.
Le Rendez-Vous. The meeting.
For the first time in recent days, British men and women came together and worked amicably with their European neighbours.
For once, football had occupied the moral high ground.