We ask these questions in language classes too. On the first day of a new class, I always have a student Q&A about the basics - your favourite sport, what you do on weekends, why you want to learn English, et cetera. It's a sound exercise in my books; the students can get to know a few things about one another, and I can get a rough assessment of their skills.
There are stock questions that students inevitably ask the teacher too. In Turkey, they're not so much questions as they are opportunities for me to flatter their homeland. "Why did you choose to come to Turkey? What do you think of Turkish food? Turkish people? Turkish men?" (a very popular query, the latter).
I thought these icebreakers were universally applicable in (and out of) the classroom. Then I started posing the oldest question in the pile, "what are your hobbies?"
For a children's class, this is an exciting opportunity to show off their current curiosities, and the range of answers will be as broad as the sky. Young students have shared with me an interest in dinosaurs, wrestling, football, painting, tae kwon do, the tuba, animation, butterflies, puzzles, "inventing," the list goes on and on.
Adults in every corner of the Earth, it seems, have the same list of hobbies (ones they're willing to share aloud with a group of strangers, at least.) "I like watching movies, listening to music, hanging out with friends, sleeping, going out to restaurants/bars/cafes...." The men will list a sport or two, and the women often say "shopping" with a guilty laugh. Someone will throw in the odd activity (pilates) or instrument (the cello), but all in all, the answers are predictable.
When someone asked me the question the other day, I had to rack my brain to think of a good answer. A lot of weird boring things came to mind:
-doing crossword puzzles
-making lists of things I would buy if I suddenly found a whole pile of money
-binge-watching television series on the Internet
-telling myself to write more
-taking photographs of the cats in Istanbul, who loll around old ruins and mosques
-baking (a legitimate hobby, but not compatible with travel)
Of course, I didn't want to share any of these idiosyncracies, lest I be judged as a nut (a rather dull one at that). So out came that tired old list: reading, movies, travel.
Conclusion? I need to think of better icebreakers for classes.
Also, find cooler-sounding hobbies.