I would say it depends. I’m the sort of person who would discreetly wipe a small offending smudge off a fork, plate or glass with a clean tissue, but if it was something that looked “germy” (like I wouldn’t be comfortable eating with/off it), I would probably quietly mention it to the host/hostess. It’s difficult to strike a balance between feeling uneasy about eating your dinner and making the hosts feel uneasy/embarassed.
Ooooh, that’s a good one! I’ll steal that, if it ever comes up.
If it’s a glass, and it’s a formal enough dinner to have servers, I’d simply beckon a server and quietly murmur, “I need a new water glass, please.” No need to go into why, and a well-trained server won’t even ask.
If it’s not formal enough to have servers, I might just nip into the kitchen to wash it myself and discretely replace it before dinner. If I don’t notice it until dinner starts, then I would talk to the hostess.
This would be for, like, a mouse died at my place setting level of gross. Anything wipeable I’d just wipe off myself; I’m not terribly concerned about germs from stuff that’s been through a hot dishwasher or sink.
Well, IIRC from the etiquette classes I attended as a child, the correct way to handle this is: as stated earlier, if there are servers, mention to the server (sans explanation) that you need a new <whatever>. If no servers are there, you have the option of either a) discreetly mentioning to the host/hostess that you think you may have spilled something on your <whatever> and could you have another or, b) discreetly wiping the offensive smudge off the item and trudging forward. Obviously, the latter is preferred.
I might not even do that. Since everyone in the western world (except me ) has a dishwasher I just assume that leftover bits stuck between the bottom of the fork tines have been so thoroughly steamed-and-dessicated that there can’t possibly be anything left to kill me.
But I will take extra care in my fork stacking habits, just in case those bits carry the bubonic plague.
Now. If the formal dinner was Christmas at gramma’s I would ABSOLUTELY do that, simply because gramma is so OCD she could serve a 12 course meal off of her kitchen floor and the idea that something crusty was on the knife would send her over the edge and be incredibly funny to watch…but, within family, that’s funny and not cruel. And, within family - my family, at least, where no one can actually spend more than five minutes in a chair without getting up again to get the ketchup/salt/coffee/butter/acetominiphin/brandy sour - no one would think twice about someone getting up to exchange forks.
I hope Mangetout returns to elaborate, but when I think of a “private, but fairly formal dinner” I don’t think of family/friend potluck. I think of work colleagues - none of whom you want to offend the next business day - or of a couple who has worked very hard preparing for and stressing out about who to invite and what to serve (particularly in this day and age of no meat/no fish/no nuts/no wheat/no seeds/no dairy/ad infinitum).
I know it’s hard to believe but, really, the ultimate purpose of a dinner party is not dinner. It’s party - the camarderie of acquaintances met and those about to be made. Since you’ve been invited you know one or the both of your hosts. If your salad fork is so encrusted with crap that you absolutely MUST say something, nudge the elbow of the one that won’t go off the rails from worry and request a new one; take it with you to the toilet to scrub; or suck it up and deal.
Unless you’re at gramma’s. Then you get to say things like, “Gramma, when’s the last time you went in for an eye exam?”