August 13, 2015

Journalistic experiment: what means to be a Muslim in Lithuania

The fourth day: rent of accommodation

We designated the fourth day of the experiment for search of rented accommodation. We found three potentially suitable apartments via an advertisement portal and agreed regarding their inspection. We were looking for two-room apartment in the North Town or in Šeškinė with the rent amount of 300-350 Euros per month. When agreeing regarding the apartment inspection on phone, we, of course, did not say about our religion, just specified that a young family with a kid would live in the apartment.

This time we decide to dress as simply as possible. Jurgita wears a scarf and a black abaja, and Giedrė, whose family as if is looking an apartment for rent, wears patterned tunic up to knees bought in the Muslim countries, pants and also a scarf. We decided to look for an apartment not covering our faces as we understood that, if wearing a veil, we would rather reduce our chances to rent.

All three our liked apartments were rented via agencies; therefore, we were agreeing regarding their inspection with brokers.

The very first two-room apartment to be inspected is in S.Žukauskas street. The beginning of the apartment search is successful for us – we agree without any difficulties regarding rent of the apartment.

Soon after it we go to inspect one more apartment, which is in Gelvonų street, in Šeškinė. We meet with the broker at the entrance to the block flat. A young man having seen us evidently gets confused. Even though he tries not to show it, after greetings he firstly asks us if we have been looking for an apartment much time.

A middle-aged woman with a guy is waiting for us in the apartment (most probably her son); however, we only greet but the apartment is showed and everything is told about by the broker. Old-construction apartment looks tidy and renovated. “Everything suits for us, we want to rent it,“ – we say to the broker. “Well, if it suits to you and you will suit to the hosts, we can sign an agreement“, – the broker says.

The woman waiting in the kitchen looks confused. Our dresses evidently embarrass her; she is observing us for some time obviously shocked. After awkward silence the woman finally clears up who would like to live in the apartment. Giedrė answers that she will live with her husband and a kid and Jurgita is just her friend helping her to look for an apartment.

„Oh, this is your friend?! – the woman re-asks with a big surprise. – As, you know, various questions come to me…“ It was unclear what she had in mind but we get to feel that the tone of the woman gets smoother and becomes not as cold. It seems as if we are breaking ice step by step. We start talking. „And who are your husbands? – having heard that we are Muslim females married to persons of other nationalities, inquires further the hostess. Giedrė answers that her husband is from Egypt.

Likely, the hostess is calmed a little bit by it. “Well, Egyptians seem good people“, – she adds. We ask if our religion is an obstacle to rent this apartment. The woman shakes her head, just hints that, when accepting tenants you can never know what people you may meet. At the end of the conversation, the hostess of the apartment replies that “everything suits to her“ but notes that the last word has to be said by her husband.

It seems a little bit strange – if we came to inspect an apartment wearing ordinary dresses, most probably, we would agree with the hostess regarding the rent at once and she would inform her husband just on the fact of successful rent of the apartment. However, she sees in front of her not ordinary residents of Vilnius, but two Muslim women wearing scarves; therefore, the woman doubts what decision to make. We call to the broker after a few hours and get to hear good news – the apartment is ours! Therefore, slightly more difficult but anyway we also successfully rent the second inspected apartment.

The same day we inspect the third accommodation in Musninkų street. This time we are met by a charming and very curious broker. Having seen us, she looks also rather surprised and when in lift, she praises our wearing and, excusing for her curiosity, clarifies why we are wearing scarves. We answer the same as to other people – that we are Muslims. We enter the apartment and are met there by hosts of it – a young couple with a baby.

After a quick inspection of the apartment and common questions we state that the apartment is suitable for us and we would like to rent it. Then, reaction of both hosts and the broker slightly surprises us again. “You can still think. Do not hurry“ – we get to hear from the owner of the apartment holding the baby in her arms. We agree to think yet and to call soon.

After leaving the apartment, the broker pours us with questions, desiring to know as much as possible about potential tenants of the apartment. „Well. How did you choose this religion? Probably following your husbands, didn‘t you? Where did you „shoot up“ those husbands, perhaps in some resort? How is specific your life style?“ – the broker pours questions.

At the end, she says especially valuing people who are not ashamed of their religion, and we says good bye. In the evening, we call to inform that we really want to rent this apartment and the broker promises to send immediately the rent agreement for coordination – it is likely that the third try to find an accommodation when wearing the Muslims‘ dress was successful for us.

It might be said that it is only accident or perhaps it could be based on the summer still in the real estate market; however, we must accept that the accommodation search was not as difficult as we expected. Yes, it happens to get many questions and both hosts of apartments and brokers looked at us unreliably at the beginning. However, after wider communication and answering to all questions, ice can be broken – if hosts of an apartment like you as a person, your dress or religion will not matter.

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